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COPTMGHT, 1897, 





THE work of the Boston Browning Society, since its organ- 
ization in 1885, has been varied and continuous, and neither 
this volume nor the valuable Browning Library of the So- 
ciety exemplifies all the modes of its activity. This vol- 
ume, however, although it cannot assume to include all 
or even the greater part of the essays, studies, and discus- 
sions contributed to the Sessions of the past twelve years, 
may stand as generally representative, in so far as writ- 
ten Papers on special themes are concerned, of the range 
of the Society's work up to the present time. With that 
idea in view, as well as with the .hope that this book may 
be of interest and service to other students and readers, it 
is now offered to the Public. 

That the literary criticism pursued by the Society has 
been broad in scope as well as impartial and scholarly in 
quality, these papers may demonstrate to the most scepti- 
cal of those who in the past have failed to perceive the 
significance of the literary movement which the Society 
represents, and therefore have faile < to appreciate the value 
and permanency of its results. The Boston Society has 
been particularly fortunate in having among its essayists 
a number of men and women who have attained eminence 
as specialists in philosophy, theology, and literature ; and 
these have contributed to the work of the Society the em- 


ciency and weight that came from the trained eye and 
practised hand, as well as of a sound and broad culture. 
To some degree, the present volume may make this appar- 
ent in the compass of its subject-matter, covering as it does 
phases of Browning's art, fame, and philosophy, and in the 
sympathetic yet judicial nature of the criticism by which 
it seeks to verify the conclusions and confirm the lead- 
ings of enlightened taste. 

Some few of the Papers here published have appeared in 
TJie Andovcr Review, The New World, Poet-lore, and The 
American Journal of Philology, to which magazines the 
thanks of the Society are due for permission to reprint 

The copious and excellent index to this volume is the 
work of Miss Elizabeth May Dame. 

It may be well to call attention to the fact that the ar- 
rangement of these Papers follows, in the main, the chron- 
ological order in which they were delivered. 



Vice- President. 




, Librarian. 

BOSTON, April 26, 1897. 


'/ PAOB 



BROWNING'S THEISM . .............. \7 




























'LuRiA' 249 







A. J. GEORGE. \^ 

' SORDELLO ' 334 















THE remark was once made to me at a dinner party, by 
an unusually lively English lady who had just arrived in 
the United States, to the effect that all the really interest- 
ing Americans seemed to be dead. While the phrase was 
certainly marked by the frankness of her nation since it 
is not easy to imagine a Frenchwoman as saying it, how- 
ever much she might think it yet it suggested the natu- 
ral mental attitude of any foreigner visiting any country. 
Emerson, writing in April, 1843 (Boston Dial, III. 512), 
says regretfully, "Europe has lost ground lately. Our 
young men go thither in every ship, but not as in the 
golden days when the same tour would show the traveller 
the noble heads of Scott, of Mackintosh, Coleridge, 
Wordsworth, Cuvier and Humboldt." Yet, for those who 
went there thirty years later, there were the heads, quite 
as noble, of Carlyle, Darwin, Tennyson, Browning, Tyndall 
and Victor Hugo. I was one of these later visitors, and 
might now easily assume, from the disappearance of those 
notables, that all the interesting Englishmen are dead also. 
The London of Andrew Lang and Oscar Wilde would 
not seem, of itself, a formidable competitor with either of 
those golden periods. Were I to go once more and meet 



my vivacious little companion on her native heath, there 
would certainly be a temptation to be as little restrained 
by courtesy as she was. 

The interest of a foreign country lies, for visitors, largely 
in the fame of its authors. Yet it must be remembered 
that the biography of an author is not to be reckoned by 
the parish registers, but by the successive milestones of 
his fame. We know that Browning's ' Pauline ' was pub- 
lished in 1833, his ' Paracelsus ' in 1835, his ' Strafford ' in 
1837, his first instalment of ' Bells and Pomegranates ' in 
1841 ; but we know that for long years after this he 
remained practically unknown to the general public, and 
that this period lasted even longer in his own country than 
in America. We also know how complete has been the 
reversal worked in his case by time. Literary history can, 
perhaps, produce no rival to the orbit traversed between 
the publication of * Pauline,' of which not a single copy 
was ever sold, and that occasion last year when the Boston 
Browning Society sent to England an order to bid f 400 
for a copy sold at auction, and failed because the price 
brought was nearly twice that sum. 

It is interesting to us, as Americans, to know that the 
shadow began to lift from Browning's fame a little earlier 
in this country than in his own. It does not appear from 
Mr. Sharp's laborious bibliography that any one had re- 
viewed ' Bells and Pomegranates ' in England when 
Margaret Fuller printed her brief but warm notice of 
' Pippa Passes ' in the (Boston) Dial for April, 1843 
(III. 535), although Mr. Sharp does not speak of this, but 
only of her collected notices of Browning in ' Papers on 
Literature and Art' (London, 1846). Nor does it appear 
that any one in England reviewed the collected poems so 
early as Lowell in the North American Review, in 1848, 
(LXVI. 357), except a writer in the British Quarterly 
Review the year previous. But it was true, at any rate, 
for both countries, that the progress of his fame was more 


tardy than that of Tennyson. A few facts will make this 
very clear. 

Lady Pollock, writing ' Macready as I knew him ' in 
1884, describes Macready as first reading Browning to her, 
thirty years earlier, and as being one of the few who had 
then (in 1854) learned to admire his poetry. He was dis- 
turbed to find that Lady Pollock had not read ' Paracelsus ; ' 
said once or twice " O good God ! " walked up and down 
the room once or twice and said, " I really am quite at 
a loss; I cannot understand it." Lady Pollock "pleaded 
the claims of the babies; they left 'little time;" and 
he answered, "Hand the babies to the nurse and read 
' Paracelsus.' " Then he read it to her, and she was 

So slowly did the taste for Browning's poetry grow in , 
the most cultivated circles in London that when, about 
1870, Lady Amberley was in this country, and an Amer- 
ican friend, driving her out from Newport to see Berkeley's 
house in that vicinity, proposed to call at Mr. Lafarge's 
house on the way and see the designs from Browning 
that he had just finished, she expressed utter indiffer- 
ence, saying that she and her friends in London knew 
and valued Mr. Browning as a man, but cared absolutely 
nothing for him as a poet. Lady Amberley was the 
daughter-in-law of Earl Russell and the daughter of 
Lord Stanley of Alderley ; she had always been accustomed 
to meeting authors and artists at her father's house, and 
her mother was the leading promoter of Girton College. 
Lady Amberley herself, who was then barely twenty, was in 
the last degree independent in her opinions, sufficiently 
so to name an infant daughter after Lucretia Mott ; but 
all this had not carried her beyond the point where she 
valued Browning as a man, but utterly ignored him as a 

It must be remembered, however, that it inevitably 
takes some time for the leading figures in literature to de- 


tach themselves from the mass. A whole school of poets 
and poetasters was then coming forward at once, and 
Browning and Tennyson were both seen amid a confused 
crowd, including Milnes, Trench, Bailey, Alford, Faber, 
Aubrey de Vere, and the like ; and I can recall many ques- 
tionings and discussions as to the staying powers of these 
various competitors. There were always some who were 
inclined in horse-racing parlance to " back the field," and 
by no means to accept Tennyson, and still less Browning, 
as certain to win the prize of fame. Even Margaret 
Fuller thought ' Paracelsus ' "' much inferior to ' Faust ' or 
' Festus.' " These periods of temporary equipoise last a 
good while among the rival candidates for national fame, but 
they do not endure for ever. Fifty years ago, Italian stu- 
dents bought a single large volume 'I Quattro Poeti,' which 
placed the four recognised Italian masters on the same 
tableland of fame. Now the volume seems to have disap- 
peared ; Ariosto and Tasso are little more than names to 
readers; Petrarch has come to be a delicate delight for 
fastidious scholars ; Italian literature means Dante. In 
the same way, the interest of German students was for- 
merly balanced between Goethe and Schiller ; it was hard 
to tell which had more admirers, though Menzel wrote a 
History of German Literature to show that Goethe was by 
far the less important figure. No one would now take 
this position ; the Goethe literature increases in relative 
importance day by day, while that in relation to Schiller 
is comparatively stationary ; indeed, Heine now takes alto- 
gether the lead of Schiller in respect to criticism and cita- 
tion. As yet, however, the scales are balancing between the 
two great contemporary English poets, with distinct indi- 
cations that Browning is destined to prevail. 

I remember that Miss Anne Thackeray (afterwards Mrs. 
Ritchie) in London, in 1872, put the assumed superiority of 
Tennyson on the strongest ground I had ever heard 
claimed for it, by pointing out that, other things being 


equal, superiority in expression must tell, and that while 
Tennyson equalled Browning in thought, he clearly sur- 
passed him in form. It was Tennyson, not he, she said, 
who had produced gems and masterpieces. She instanced 
' Tears, Idle Tears ' as an example on the smaller scale 
and ' In Memoriam ' on the larger. It has taken a quarter 
of a century since then to satisfy me that her first premise 
equality in thought was mistakenly assumed, so that 
the whole argument falls. The test of thought is time ; 
and for myself it is applied in the following way. 

I began to read the two poets at about the same period, 
1841, when I was not quite eighteen, and long before the 
collected poems of either had been brought together. I 
then read them both constantly and knew by heart most of 
those of Tennyson, in particular, before I was twenty years 
old. To my amazement I now find that I can read these 
last but little ; the charm of the versification remains, but 
they seem to yield me nothing new ; whereas the earlier 
poems of Browning, ' Paracelsus,' ' Sordello,' ' Bells and 
Pomegranates ' to which last I was among the original 
subscribers appear just as rich a mine as ever ; I read 
them over and over, never quite reaching the end of 
them. In case I were going to prison and could have 
but one book, I should think it a calamity to have Ten- 
nyson offered me instead of Browning, simply because 
Browning has proved himself to possess, for me at least, 
so much more staying power. This is at least an intelli- 
gible test, and, to some degree, a reasonable standard; 
though of course much allowance is to be made for the 
individual point of view. The opinion of no one per- 
son is final, however much it may claim to found itself on 
methods of demonstration or critical principles. If it as- 
sumes more than a very limited and mainly subjective 
value, it always drives us back to the saying of Goncourt, 
" Tout discussion politique revient h ceci : je suis meilleur 
que vous. Tout discussion litte*raire a ceci : j'ai plus de 


gout que vous." Yet a mere comparison such as I have 
made of the judgment of the same mind at two periods of 
time, involves no such arrogant assumption. 

Now that both Tennyson and Browning have conclu- 
sively taken their position as the foremost English poets of 
their period, it is interesting to remember that their whole 
external type and bearing represented in some degree the 
schools to which they respectively belonged. Tennyson, 
who was English through and through in habit and resi- 
dence, yet looked like a picturesque Italian priest or gue- 
rilla leader; indeed, he christened Mrs. Cameron's best 
photograph of him " The Dirty Monk," and wrote for her, 
in my presence, a testimonial that he thought it best. 
Browning, who had lived so long in Italy that it was made 
a current ground of objection to his admission to West- 
minster Abbey, yet looked the Englishman, rather than 
the poet. He was perhaps best described by Madame 
Navarro (Mary Anderson) in her Autobiography, who says 
that to her surprise he did not look like a bard at all but 
rather " like one of our agreeable Southern gentlemen " 
a phrase which, to those who know the type she meant, is 
strikingly recognisable in the fine photograph of him by 
Mrs. Myers. He perhaps painted himself, consciously or 
unconsciously, in the poet of his t How it Strikes a Con- 
temporary,' the man who has no airs, no picturesque 
costume, nothing of the melodramatic, but who notes 
everything about him, remembers everything, and can, if 
needed, tell the tale. This is precisely what Walter 
Savage Landor had foreshadowed, fifty years before, in 
comparing him to Chaucer. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, March 25, 1896.] 

A POET'S originality may be tested in two ways, 
first, by observing the novelty of his various individual 
inventions ; secondly, by considering the peculiar colouring 
that he has given to well-known and traditional ideas. 
For the rest, when we consider any man's originality, we 
commonly find that it shows itself rather more significantly 
in the manner than in the matter of his discourse, so that 
it is usually what I have just called the colouring of a 
man's work, rather than the material novelty of his 
imaginings, that concerns us when we try to comprehend 
his personal contribution to the world's treasures. Shake- 
speare wrought over earlier plays and stories ; Sophocles 
and jEschylus re-worded ancient myths ; the Homeric 
poems were woven out of a mass of earlier poetic narra- 
tives. Yet it was just the manner of doing this work 
which in each case constituted the poet's originality. Nor 
does one at all make light of human originality by thus 
calling it frequently more significant as to its manner than 
as to its matter. All truth concerns rather the form than 
the stuff of things ; what we call the ideal aspect of the uni- 
verse gets its very name from a word that means visible 
shape ; and when we call truth ideal, we imply that shape 
is of more importance than material, and manner than 
mere content. The difference between man and the 
anthropoid apes, while it involves man's structure, is far 
more a difference in functions, i. e. in the manner in which 


certain physiological processes of movement go on, than 
it is a difference in anatomical constitution. Amongst 
men, a genius may have, for all that we now know, no 
more brain-cells than many a very commonplace fellow. 
It is the manner in which these cells function that gives 
us the genius. Civilisation itself as a whole also turns 
upon recognising that " good form," as it concerns the way 
in which you perform your act, is often of far more dignity 
than is the material act itself. We also often call this 
way of performance, in so far as the doer himself intends 
it, the spirit of the act. And every one now knows that 
charity does not mean giving all your goods to feed the 
poor, nor giving your body to be burned, and that unless 
the spirit, the deliberate manner, the sincerely meant inner 
form called charity, is in your act, then, whatever you do, 
you are as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. 

Manner, then, is not to be despised. Wisdom, virtue, 
and genius are all of them largely affairs of form and 
manner. By manner man differs most from monkey, 
civilisation most from savagery, the original thinker most 
from the prosaic copyist, the great poet most from- the 
weakling. On the whole, then, of the two tests just 
mentioned as helping us to estimate a poet's originality, 
the test furnished by his originality of style, of colouring, 
of form, of attitude, of treatment, even when he deals with 
very old ideas, is more likely to prove significant, in any 
given case, than is the easier test furnished by merely 
counting how many apparently unheard-of incidents, char- 
acters, or scenes he may chance to have invented. 

In this essay I am to speak of an aspect of Browning's 
thought which had no insignificant place in determining 
his personal originality as a man and as a poet. This 
aspect concerns not any disposition ,on his part to invent 
new stories, plots, or people, but the fashion in which 
he treated the most familiar of religious conceptions, 
namely, the conception of God. I need not say that 


Browning as little invented any portion of that concep- 
tion of God which he possessed as he invented the con- 
ception itself in its wholeness. Nor could he invent new 
arguments for God's existence : for those, if such inven- 
tions were any longer possible at all after all these ages 
of thinking, would concern the work of the speculative 
thinker; and Browning is not such a thinker, but is 
a poet. On the other hand, what a man can render to 
divine things, at the present day, is not his personal aid 
in inventing novel notions of their nature, but his indi- 
vidual attitude and manner of service, of exposition, of 
concern for the unseen world. When a man is as original 
as was Browning, his attitude and manner in respect of 
these divine things will have its own noteworthy and 
original type. And it is this and this alone which we 
desire to study when we consider Browning's Theism. 


As we begin, a few words are necessary concerning the 
traditional conception of God, as historical conditions have 
denned it for the whole Christian world. The individual's 
way of viewing God can be estimated only when set off 
against the background of the current fashion of conceiv- 
ing the divine nature. The word God is one of the 
earliest great names that we hear. The common lore 
concerning God is amongst the most familiar of the teach- 
ings of childhood and youth for most of us. Yet few of 
us ever pause to ask with any care whether this our tra- 
ditional conception of God is derived from one source or 
from many, or whether it is a comparatively simple or an 
extremely complex idea. As a fact, the Christian notion 
of God, as the church has received, defined, and trans- 
mitted it, may be traced to at least three decidedly distinct 
sources, each one of which has contributed its own share 
to the formulation which has now become current in Chris- 
tendom. The unlearned believer no longer distinguishes 


the elements due to each source; but part of the very 
consciousness of mystery which he feels, when he tries to 
think what God is, results from the fact that, in forming 
the Christian views of God, three great streams of opinion, 
as it were, have met, and the bark of faith, moving about 
over the dark waters at the confluence of these streams, is 
often borne hither and thither upon eddies and varying 
currents of opinion, whose manifold whirlings are due to 
the fact that these streams, as they come together, mingle 
the diverse directions of their flow in a very uncertain and 
unequal fashion. One of the greatest problems of techni- 
cal Christian theology has in fact been to reconcile the 
seeming contradictions of the three tendencies to which 
our conception of God is historically due. 

The first and best known of these three tendencies is 
what may be called the moral view of God, or, more tech- 
nically expressed, the Ethical Monotheism of the prophets 
of Israel. Christianity, from the very beginning, enriched 
this ethical monotheism, added to it a deeper colouring, by 
especially emphasising the doctrine of the love of God for 
the individual soul, and mingled with it the conception of 
the incarnation. But the doctrine, even as thus enlarged, 
is still essentially unchanged in character, and constitutes 
only one of our three streams of theistic opinion. As the 
prophets first taught the doctrine, so in essence it still 
remains. God is the righteous and loving ruler of the 
world. Ruler he is, so to speak, only as a mere expression 
of his perfected righteousness. His power is self-evident, 
and hardly needs argument. The explicit arguments of 
the original teachers of this faith concern in no sense the 
proof of God's existence, and only in a minor sense the 
demonstration of his power, which is everywhere assumed. 
What the original teachers of this faith aim to make clear 
is the meaning of God's righteousness, the law that em- 
bodies his will, and the genuineness of his love. Mean- 
wliile, of his nature apart from these his ethical attributes, 


both the prophets and the earliest teachers of Christianity, 
in so far as they were free from foreign influences, have 
comparatively little to say. That little we all well know. 
God is One, for there is no God beside him. God is per- -^ 
sonal, for only a person can will and love. He is conceived 
as sundered from the world that he rules ; for the world 
contains evil, which opposes his righteous will. Moreover, 
he created the world, and one looks, upon occasion, as 
does the Psalmist, for signs of his wisdom in nature. But 
all these considerations centre in the one essential feature, 
namely, that God is righteous, and that he will prevail 
against evil and will love his own. Speculation as to the 
divine essence is in the background, and is even feared. 
Proof is needless. God has spoken. One has but to obey y 
and to love. This, then, is the first tendency that has con- 
tributed to Christian theism. 

But Christianity, ere it became a world-religion, had to 
meet the world in intellectual conflict. The world already 
had conceived of God, and had conceived him otherwise. 
Hence, in converting the world, Christianity had to mingle 
its primal thoughts with others. This process began very 
early, and the first mingling of Greek and Jewish thought 
had actually antedated Christianity. Accordingly, the 
second tendency which is represented in our modern con- 
ception of God is historically due, not to the faith of Israel, 
but to the philosophy of Greece, and, above all, to two 
thinkers, Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle himself was the 
first pure and explicit monotheist in the history of Greek 
speculation ; but Plato had already contributed elements 
to philosophical thought which profoundly affected all 
the later theistic formulations, in so far as such formula- 
tions embodied the Greek tradition. The essence of the 
theistic doctrine that resulted from this source lies in the 
fact that God is conceived as the being whose wisdom, and 
whose rational perfection, self-possession, omniscience, and 
ideal fulness of intelligent and intelligible nature explain 


whatever is orderly, harmonious, rational and significant 
in the universe. If God, for Israel, is righteousness, and 
in the end love, for Greek philosophy he is primarily the 
truth, the self-possessed mind, the source of all designs, _ 
the ideally harmonious being in whose presence all things 
move, because all things aim to imitate, by the lawfulness 
and beauty of their movements, his moveless perfection. 
The prophets of Israel know that God loves Israel. The 
Christian teachers insist that God loves the world. But 
in Aristotle's famous account it is rather merely the world 
that loves God because of his ideal perfection, while this 
very perfection is the assurance that God, as he is in him- 
self, is above special concern for any finite end. In him 
all ends are eternally attained, and in this sense he can 
indeed be called the Good. But, on the other hand, this 
his supreme goodness stands in strong contrast to the 
righteousness which was attributed to God by Israel. For 
Israel's theism, whose Deity, although sovereign, has to war 
with evil and unrighteousness, appears at first, in compari- 
son with the Greek or Aristotelian theism, as a doctrine 
that stains the purely ideal fulfilment of the divine life by, 
adding the notion that God hates, loves, strives with man,; 
pities, and finally, in the Christian view, becomes incarnate. 
Here was the first great difficulty in the way of Christian- 
ity when it undertook to win over the world ; here was 
what to the Greek was foolishness in the early Christian 
idea of God. The church boldly met the objections of the 
world by undertaking, from the first, to unite the theism 
of Greek philosophy with her own native ethical mon- 
otheism, to assert that both views are true, and to 
conceive of God at once as ideally perfect, as ethically 
active, and as, in Christ, sufferingly incarnate. Hence the 
deeply paradoxical character of the Christian theology, 
a character always openly avowed, but of a nature to insure 
endless controversy and heresy. 

But a third element entered to deepen still further the 


mystery of the new faith. The Greek God of Aristotle is 
still in one aspect a personal God, for he not only pos- 
sesses wisdom, but himself knows that he is wise. He 
does not strive, or war with ill, or pity his children, or die 
to save mankind, but he appears to be at all events self- 
conscious, and this character he shares with our own 
rational selfhood. But from the Orient, and perhaps also 
from sources independently Grecian, there had come still 
another view of the divine nature, a view which is the 
parent of most forms of Pantheism. In its earliest devel- 
oped shape, this view appears as the classical doctrine of 
the most characteristic Hindoo philosophy. According to 
this conception God, as he is in himself, is simply the One 
and only genuinely Real Being, the impersonal Atman or 
Self of the Universe. The whole world of finite beings 
is more or less completely an illusion ; for this world has 
not the grade of reality that God possesses. He truly is ; 
all finite things are a vain show, a product either of a 
mere imagination, or of some relatively non-essential pro- 
cess of emanation, or of divine overflow, whereby the all- 
perfect and all-real becomes the parent of a realm of 
shadowy half-realities, whose truth lies in him, not in 
themselves. Thus our third conception of God is closely 
linked to a denial of the substantial existence of both the 
natural and the moral worlds. God is conceived with such 
emphasis laid upon his supreme reality that one no longer 
says, " He rules," " He loves," " He fashions," or even " He 
knows," " He is conscious," but rather, " He is, and all 
else is a dream." For wisdom, power, love, self-conscious- 
ness, and any form of definite personality, are predicates 
too human to express his inmost nature. He is above 
predicates, above attributes, or, as Meister Eckhart the 
mystic expresses it, the Godhead is " ungewortet" i. e. is 
above the meaning of all conceivable words. 

Now this view of God's essence, derived as I have said 
from sources which are some of them Oriental, while 


others may have been independently Grecian, is a well- 
known and fruitful mother of the pantheistic heresies that 
the church has opposed. But the Christian faith has 
never been willing to miss any means of exalting the 
divine nature. As a fact, the church actually undertook 
not only to oppose, but also to assimilate, this third con- 
ception, and to unite it with the others, while always con- 
demning as heresy any too great or exclusive emphasis 
that might be laid upon it. The result is a well-known 
Christian tendency which has again and again appeared 
both in Catholic and in Protestant Mysticism. The reader 
of the 'Imitation of Christ' to-day absorbs, often unwit- 
tingly, this Oriental notion of the divine nature, even 
while he thinks himself dealing with the incarnation of 
God in Christ. As a mysterious, esoteric, and only half- 
conscious motive, this faith that there is no real created 
world at all, but rather a mere hint of God's ineffable 
being in whatever you feel and see, this sense of " One 
and all," of God as the only reality, of the visible universe 
as a vain show, of life as a dream, of evil as a mere illu- 
sion, of personality as a mistake, has actually played a 
large part in the Christian consciousness. In its technical 
doctrine the theology of the church has often deliberately 
tried to reconcile this view of God both with the theism of 
Aristotle and with the ethical monotheism of Israel. How 
hard the undertaking, is obvious. And yet the modern 
man, if a believer, is likely to feel that in each one of 
these views of God's nature there must be some element 
of truth. 

These three tendencies, then, the Ethical Monotheism 
of Israel enriched by the doctrine of the incarnation; the 
Greek Theism of Aristotle, for which God is the wise 
source of beauty and of rationality ; the Monism of India, 
for which there is but one super-personal Real Being in 
all the world, while all else is a mere vain show, these 
are the three streams of doctrine whose waters now mingle 


in the vast and troubled estuary of the faith of the Chris- 
tian church. It is towards the problems resulting from 
this mingling of ideas that the individual believer has to 
take his stand. And now what stand does Browning 


Browning is a poet who very frequently mentions God, 
and who a number of times has elaborately written con- 
cerning his nature and his relations to man. The argu- 
ments in question are frequently stated in dramatic form, . 
and not as Browning's own utterances. Paracelsus, Cali- 
ban, David in the poem ' Saul,' both Count Guido and the 
Pope in 'The Ring and the Book,' Fust in the 'Parley- 
ings,' and Ferishtah, are all permitted to expound their 
theology at considerable length. Karshish, Abt Vogler, 
Rabbi Ben Ezra, Ixion, and a number of others, define 
views about God which are more briefly stated, but not 
necessarily less comprehensible. On the other hand, there 
are the two poems, ' Christmas-Eve ' and ' Easter-Day,' 
which, -without abandoning the dramatic method, approach 
nearer to indicating, although they do not directly express, 
Browning's personal views of the theistic problem. These 
poems are important, although they must not be taken too 
literally. Finally, in ' La Saisiaz,' and in the ' Reverie ' in 
' Asolando,' Browning has entirely laid aside the dramatic 
form, and has spoken in his own person concerning his 
attitude towards theology. I do not pretend by this 
catalogue to exhaust the material for a study of Brown- 
ing's theism, but as important specimens these passages 
may serve. As for the method of using them for the 
interpretation of Browning's manner of dealing with the 
idea of God, that method seems by no means difficult. 
Whether it is Browning himself or any one of his dramatic 
creations, whether it is Count Guido or the Pope, Caliban 
or Rabbi Ben Ezra, who speaks of the nature of God, the 
general manner of facing the problem is, on the whole, 


very characteristically the same, so far as the character in 
question proceeds to any positive conclusion, and that 
however various the results reached, or the personalities 
dramatically presented. This manner, identical in such 
highly contrasted cases, at once marks itself as Browning's 
own manner, and it is, as already observed, a decidedly 
original one, not indeed as to the ideas advanced, but as 
to points emphasised, the doubts expressed and the gen- 
eral spirit manifested. The road Godwards is for Brown- 
ing the same, whoever it is that wanders over that lonely 
path or pauses by the wayside after obtaining a distant 
view of the goal, or traitorously abandons the quest, or 
reaches at last the moment of blowing the slughorn before 
the Dark Tower. 

In all cases the idea of God and the problem of God's 
nature define themselves for Browning substantially thus : 
First, a glance at the universe, so to speak, at once informs 
you that you are in presence of what Browning loves to 
call Power. Power is the first of Browning's two principal 
names for God. Now this term Power means from the 
start a great deal. Browning and his theologising charac- 
ters, say for instance even Caliban and Count Guido, re- 
semble Paracelsus in standing at first where at all events 
many men aspire at last to stand. Namely, this Power 
that they know as here in the world is not only One, real, 
and in its own measure and grade defined, so far as possi- 
ble, as world-possessing, but it is so readily conceived as 
intelligent that, even when most sceptical and argumenta- 
tive, they spend no time in labouring to prove its intelli- 
gence. The conception of mere blind nature as an 
independent and substantially real realm, hiding the God 
of Power, they hardly possess, or, if they possess such con- 
ception, a word suffices to set it aside. If, like Caliban, 
they work out an elaborate argument from design, as if it 
were necessary to prove the Creator's wisdom from his 
works, the argument is accompanied by a certain sense 


that it has either trivial or else, like David's survey of 
Creation, merely illustrative value. The God of Power t's, 
and he means to work his powerful will. Hence he is 
never a mere Unknowable, like Spencer's Absolute. That 
is what one simply finds. That is fact for you whenever 
you open your eyes. In other words, Browning makes 
light of all those ancient or modern views of nature, now- 
adays so familiar to many of us, which conceive of median- * 
ical laws, or of blind nature-forces, as the actually given 
and independently real causes of all our experience. The 
dying John in the desert prophesies that there will here- 
after come such views, but regards them as too absurd for 

refutation. Materialism, and other forms of pure natural- 


ism, never became, for Browning, expressions of any de- 
finitely recognisable possibilities. Herein he strongly ^ 
differs from the Tennyson of 'In Memoriam.' Equally 
uninteresting to Browning is Greek polytheism, whose 
powers are numerous, unless indeed one conceives these 
powers as the wiser Greeks did, and calls them mere as- 
pects or shows of the One divine Nature. God as Power 
is thus in part identical with the Greek view of 6 0eo'?, or 
of TO Oelov, in so far as this divine was viewed as expressed 
in nature, and as only symbolised by the names of the 
various gods. The various gods of Greek polytheism have 
special interest to Browning only in so far as they reveal 
the other aspect of the divine nature, namely, the divine 
Love, as Pan revealed his disinterested love for Athens to 
Pheidippides, or else in so far as they are mere individual 
persons in a dramatic story. 

In this conception of the God as Power, revealed as a 
perfectly obvious and universal fact, Browning combines, 
in an undefined way, that Aristotelian notion of God as 
the intelligent source of the world-order and that rela- 
tively Oriental faith in the One Realitj 7 , which we have 
already seen as factors in our Christian idea of God. For 
our poet, God as Pow r er is One and is Real. Our knowl- 



edge that he is so is direct, is a matter almost of sense, 
and needs no special proof. Like Xenophanes, the early 
Greek monist, Browning simply " looks abroad over the 
whole " (for so Aristotle phrases the matter in the case of 
Xenophanes) and says, " It is One." This knowledge is a 
sort of easy and swift reflex action, on the poet's part, in 
presence of the physical universe. The directness of the 
insight resembles that of the mystics ; but this is not, like 
theirs, as yet a comforting insight. For the God of mere 
Power is no humanly acceptable , God. Meanwhile Brown- 
ing, who so easily individualises when he comes to the 
world of men, very readily sees all natural objects' as mere 
cases or symbols of the universal Power ; and so, when- 
ever he theologises, the natural objects quickly lose their 
individuality and lapse into unity as manifestations of the 
one Power, even while one continues, like David, to dwell 
upon their various beauties with -enthusiastic detail. As 
we shall soon see, there does indeed arise a contradictory 
sort of variety and disharmony within the world of the 
One Power, but this is an inevitable afterthought. One 
means to view Power as One. So far then, our poet seems 
a Monist of almost Oriental swiftness in identifying every- 
thing with his One Power. The Pope, in ' The Ring and 
the Book,' does indeed give the argument from Power a 
somewhat Aristotelian definiteness of development, as a 
sort of design-argument : but the Pope is a technical 
theologian ; and, for the rest, his restatement of the 
Aristotelian argument for God is cut as short as possible. 
The manifold and occult wisdom that Paracelsus seeks, as 
he runs about the world in search of strange facts, is not 
meant to prove, but to illustrate and apply, with restless 
empirical curiosity, the wonders of the divine unity. The 
designs, the exhaustless ingenuity, of the God of Power 
"obtain praise," as the ' Reverie' in ' Asolando ' points out, 
from our reason, from the knowledge within us : but it is 
plainly not thus that we gradually acquire the notion of 


God; but it is rather thus that we merely exemplify, 
variegate, and refresh our direct sense that God is 

As for the directness of Browning's insight into the pres- 
ence of Power, this may readily be shown by quotations. 
1 La Saisiaz ' is to be a poem of explicit reasoning : 

Would I shirk assurance on each point whereat I can but guess 
" Does the soul survive the body ? Is there God's self, no or yes ? " 

The poet thus resolves to get definite mental clearness. 
But the first answer to his questions is a fair instance of 
the absolutely direct argument concerning P'ower : 

I have questioned, and am answered. Question, answer presuppose 

Two points : that the thing itself which questions, answers, is it knows ; 

As it also knows the thing perceived outside itself, a force 

Actual ere its own beginning, operative through its course, 

Unaffected by its end, that this thing likewise needs must be ; 

Call this God, then, call that soul, and both the only facts for me. 

Prove them facts ? that they o'erpass my power of proving, proves them such : 

Fact it is I know I know not something which is fact as much. 

In the ' Reverie ' in ' Asolando ' the soul, after its early 
and brief " surview of things," learns to say : 

Thus much is clear, 
Doubt annulled thus much : I know. 

All is effect of cause : 

As it would, has willed and done 
Power : and my mind's applause 

Goes, passing laws each one, 
To Omnipotence, lord of laws. 

To "pass" the laws of the physical world in this ready 
way i. e. to make little of any study of the interposing 
nature, and to go direct to the highest in the realm of \ 
Power is very characteristic of this aspect of Browning's ', 
reasoning. It is in this fashion too, namely, by very 
quickly passing from one stage to a higher, that the Pope 
abbreviates his version of the argument for the divine 
wisdom. To be sure, Bishop Blougram, in his assumption 
of extreme scepticism, has to declare that "creation's 


meant to hide " God " all it can." But even in his case, 
not natural law, but natural evil, is the veil that hides 
God. And he too admits that 

The feeblest sense is trusted most ; the child 
Feels God a moment. 

It is, therefore, not the brutishness of Caliban, but the 
very essence of the argument from the fact of Power, that 
leads Caliban to begin his theology with the directly 
stated thesis : 

' Thiuketh He dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon. 

One has not first to prove that Setebos exists. The only 
question for Caliban is as to where his lair is. On the 
other hand, far higher in the scale of being, the sense that 
the universe consists just of man and 'of this God of power 
may come over the soul of a sufferer with a pang all the 
keener because this sense of God's mercilessly potent 
presence is so direct. The love-forsaken heroine of the 
lyric ' In a Year ' closes with words whose sense the fore- 
going considerations may serve to make plainer : 

Well, this cold clay clod 

Was man's heart : 
Crumble it, and what conies next ? 

Is it God ? 

God and the heart, we see, are the two and sole realities ; 
crumble one, and only the other is left you. 

I do not know that anywhere the otherwise so argu- 
mentative poet throws much fuller light upon this fashion 
of making clear God's existence. What Power does, many 
of Browning's characters very elaborately describe, accord- 
ing to their lights ; but that the one Power exists, needs 
for Browning no fuller proof than the foregoing. Brown- 
ing apparently is not, at any rate consciously, a Berke- 
leyan idealist, yet for him the existence of the God of 
Power is not only as sure as is the existence of one's own 
self, but is surer, and apparently more real, than is the 


existence of what we call the outer world, i. e. the world 
of nature. 

The young Browning, for the rest, was partly under 
Platonic influence in regard to the definition of the world 
of Power. This influence appears in ' Pauline ' and in 
' Paracelsus.' But the influence was hardly that of a tech- 
nical interest in Plato, and the neo-Platonic pantheism 
attributed to Paracelsus is transformed into a highly 
modern and romantic rhapsody, conceived after Renais- 
sance models, but much in Schelling s spirit. The Greeks 
had first found their natural world real, beautiful, and 
mysterious, as well as obviously embraced within the 
unity of the celestial spheres. Hence the thoughtful 
Greek finally reasoned, but by slowly attained successive 
stages, that the world is both one and divine. His Gods 
gradually blended in the abstraction called TO 6elov ; his 
philosophical theories of nature slowly lost their early 
materialism ; and thence he passed, next, to Plato's world 
of the eternal ideas, then to Aristotle's monotheism. But 
in Browning's view of the universe of power this whole 
Hellenic process_js_condensed, as it were, to^jjoint, and 
blended with the monistic tendency _thatj3ame into Chris- 
tianity, through Neo-Platonism, from the East. Nature, 
for Browning's view, is swiftly surveyed, and seen to be 
wiseand beautiful. Then nature is referred to one prin- 
ciple, God as Power. This reference is an immediate 
intuition. Hereupon God as Power seems actually to 
absorb the very being of the natural world, and the result 
is so far pantheistic. The individual Self that ob- 
serves all this remains, to be sure, still unabsorbed and 

But now, in strong contrast to this first aspect of 
Browning's Theism, is a second aspect, and one which 
forms the topic of our poet's most elaborate reasoning 
processes. God as Power is grasped by an intuition. 
There is, however, another intuition, namely, that God 


is Love. This latter intuition, taken by itself, Browning 
can as little prove as the foregoing. What it means, we 
have yet to see. But its presence in the poet's mind 
introduces a new aspect of his doctrine. The difficulty, 
namely, that here appears, is the one which taxes every 
power of his reflection. The difficulty is: How can the 
God of Power be also the God of Love? Neither of the 
intuitions can be proved ; neither is a topic of more than 
the most summary reasoning process. But the relation 
between the two intuitions is a matter worthy of the most 
extensive and considerate study. Moreover, to Browning's 
mind, herein lies the heart of our human interest in divine 
matters. Hence dramatic portrayals of even the basest 
efforts to make the transition in thought from the God of 
Power to the God of Love ; even the dimmest movings of 
the human spirit in its search for the conception of the God 
of Love, all these will be, in Browning's view, of fasci- 
nating interest. 

But now what, from Browning's point of view, does one 
mean by speaking of God as Love ? As I once tried to 
point out, 1 Browning uses the word Love, in his more 
metaphysical passages, in a very pregnant and at the same 
time in a very inclusive sense, almost, one might say, 
as a technical term. Love, as he here employs it, includes 
indeed the tenderer affections, but is in no wise limited to 
them. Love, in its most general use, means for Browning, 
very much as for Swedenborg, the affection that any being 
has towards what that creature takes to be his own good. 
Paracelsus, in his d} 7 ing confession, declares : 

In my own heart love had not been made wise 

To trace love's faint beginnings iii mankind, 

To know even hate is but a mask of love's, 

To see a good in evil, and a hope 

In ill-success ; to sympathize, be proud 

Of their half-reasons, faint aspirings, dim 

1 In ' The Problem of Paracelsus,' p. 224. 


Struggles for truth, their poorest fallacies, 
Their prejudice and fears and cares and doubts ; 
All with a touch of nobleness, despite 
Their error, upward tending all though weak, 
Like plants in mines, which never saw the sun, 
But dream of him, and guess where he may be, 
And do their best to climb and get to him. 

In brief, then, the totality of human concerns, on their 
positive side, all passion, all human life, in so far as these 
tend towards growth, expansion, increasing intensity and 
ideality, all these, however base their expressions may 
now seem, constitute, in us mortals, Love. Stress is laid, 
of course, upon this expanding, this positive and ideal 
tendency of love. This is the differentia of love amongst 
the affections. Content, sloth, indolence, hesitancy, even 
where these are conventionally moral states, as in ' The 
Statue and the Bust,' are cases of what is not love. Stren- 
uousness, however, even when its object is the theory of 
the Greek particles, is, as in ' The Grammarian's Funeral,' 
an admirable case of love. Ixion loves, even in the midst 
of his wrath and anguish : 

Pallid birth of my pain, where light, where light is, aspiring 
Thither I rise, whilst thou Zeus, keep the godship and sink! 

If this then, in man, is love, what must it mean to say 
that God is Love ? It must mean first, that there is some- 
thing in God that corresponds to every one of these aspira- 
tions of the creature. Now this, to be sure, is so far what 
even Aristotle had in one sense said. For Aristotle declares 
that the world loves God, and that the world is thus moved 
to imitate every finite being in its own measure God's 
perfection. But. in Aristotle's conception, it is the world 
that loves ; God is the Beloved. But now Browning 
plainly means more than this. He means that to every 
affection of the creature, in so far as it aims upwards, 
towards greater intensity and ideality, there is something 
in God that not only corresponds, but directly responds : 


Thoughts hardly to be packed 

Into a narrow act, 
Fancies that broke through language and escaped; 

All I could never be, 

All, men ignored in me, 
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. 

God's love for us, if it exists, must thus have not merely 
to aim at some distant perfection and heavenly bliss for us, 
but to find in our very blindness, suffering, weakness, 
inefficiency, yes, even in our very faultiness, so far as 
it involves a striving upwards, something that he met 
with appreciation, sympathy, care, and praise, as being 
love's " faint beginning " in us. God's love, in Browning's 
mind, does not mean merely or even mainly his tenderness 
or pity for us, or his desire to see us happy in his own 
arbitrarily appointed way, but his delight in our very 
oddities, in the very narrowness of our ardent individuality. 
It means his sharing of our very weaknesses, his sympathy 
with even our low views of himself, so long as all these 
things mean our growing like the plant in the mine that 
has never seen the light. If God views our lives in this 
way, then, and only then, does he love us. He must love 
us, at the very least, as the artist loves his creations, 
heartily, open-mindedly, joyously, not because we are all 
fashioned in one abstract image, but because in our mani- 
foldness we all together reflect something of the wealth of 
life in which he abounds. This is the view of Aprile, 
never later abandoned by Browning. 

Here, I take it, we have indicated the core of Browning's 
doctrine of the divine Love. But now how is this doctrine 
related to that of Christianity? The notion of God as 
Power was, we saw, a summary and blending of that Greek 
monotheism and Oriental pantheism which have always 
contributed their share to the theism of the Christian 
church. Browning's doctrine of God as Love, on the other 
hand, brings him, of course, into intimate contact with the 
remaining aspect of Christian theism, or with the more 


central and original portion of the faith of the church. 
Yet here, as appears of this central and original portion of 
Christian faith, only one article immediately and personally 
appealed to Browning himself. This article he selects 
from tradition for repeated and insistent illustration, at 
periods very remote from one another in his life. It is the 
doctrine of the Incarnation. God, according to the Chris- 
tian faith, became man. To the significance of this doc- 
trine, as Browning viewed it, the dying Aprile (in the s? 
second version of the ' Paracelsus ' ), David, Karshish, and w 
Ferishtah all bear a witness, that is conceived by the poet as 
coming from the hearts of men who are not under the spell 
of the faith of the church itself. The dying John in the 
desert, the Pope in his meditation, give the same tale its 
more orthodox form : yet neither of these is merely report- 
ing a tradition ; each is giving the personal witness of a 
soul. Speaking more obviously in his own person, or at 
least under thinner dramatic disguises, the poet more than 
once returns to the topic. About this point long arguments 
cluster. It is an ineffable mystery. Could it be true ? 
The poet very noteworthily loves to view this article of 
faith as if from without, as Karshish or as Ferishtah has 
to view it, as an hypothesis, as something that might 
some time occur. Browning himself regards with an 
unpersuaded interest the historical arguments pro and con 
as to the authenticity of the Gospel narrative. It is note- 
worthy, moreover, that the incarnation has small connection, 
in his mind, with the other articles with which the faith 
of the church has joined it. The atonement, the death on 
the cross, have at all events a very much smaller personal 
interest for the poet, although they are mentioned in the 
two poems, Christmas-Eve ' and ' Easter-Day.' But it is 
the reported fact of the incarnation over which he wonders 
and is fain to be clear. Why this intense concern of an 
essentially independent intellect, which mere tradition, as 
such, could never convince ? For Browning was certainly 
no orthodox believer. 


The answer is plain. The truth of the doctrine of the 
incarnation, if ever it became or becomes true, must lie in 
its revelation of a universal and transcendently significant 
aspect of God's nature, namely, the human aspect. God, 
the All-Great, if he is or can become human, is thereby 
shown to be the All-Loving too. Then one can see that 
he really does and so can contain an attribute that qualifies 
him to see the meaning of our every imperfection, and to 
respond to our blindest love with love of his own. To say 
God is Love is, then, the same as to say God is, or has 
been, or will "be incarnate, perhaps once, perhaps for so 
Browning's always monistic intuitions about the relation 
of God and the world suggest to him perhaps always, 
perhaps in all our life, perhaps in all men. 

So far, then, Browning's general attitude towards the 
manifold traditions of the Christian faith. So far his con- 
trast between God as Power and God as Love. So far too 
his interest in what, if completely believed, would for him 
be the doctrine that would reconcile God as Power with 
God as Love. 


Let us turn next to a more special aspect of the conflict 
which these two conceptions of God undergo in the various 
, cases where they are dramatically represented. 

People who conceive God almost exclusively as Powef 
are in Browning's account, in general, beings of a lower 
mental or moral grade. Such is the intolerant believer 
with whom Ferishtah argues in ' The Sun.' Such, more 
markedly still, are Count Guido and Caliban. On the 
other hand, sufferers in general, like Ixion, have of course 
this aspect of the divine nature emphasised in their experi- 
ence, and are in so far pathetically blinded, unless, like 
Ixion, they escape from blindness by a supreme act of 
faith. The Greek, on the whole, also had to conceive of 
God merely as what Browning would call Power. But on 
this side Browning, as before pointed out, does not sympa- 


thise with the Greek. Browning prefers Euripides, partly 
because the latter had gone distinctly beyond what Brown- 
ing would call mere power in his conception of the moral 
world, although he had not yet quite reached the Christian 
conception of the divine love. But now, as Browning 
portrays the thoughts of those who are disposed to exclude 
the conception of God as Love, there is one very noteworthy 
feature about certain of their arguments which, so far as 
I know, has escaped general notice. This feature lies in 
the fact that the God of Power, even before we learn quite 
positively to conceive him as the God of Love, sometimes 
appears to us, despite his all-real Oneness, as somehow 
requiring another and higher if much dimmer God beyond 
him, either to explain, his existence or to justify his being. 
This contradictory and restless search for a God beyond 
God, this looking for a reality higher still than our highest 
already defined power, appears in several cases, in our poet's 
work, as a sort of inner disease, about the very conception 
of the God of Power, and as the beginning of the newer 
and nobler faith. The God beyond God is in the end what 
gets defined for us as the God of Love. The World of 
Power, despite all the monistic intuition, is inwardly 
divided, is essentially incomplete, sends us looking further 
and further beyond, until, as to David so to us, it occurs that 
what we are looking for is just the weakness in strength 
that the God who loves us face to face, as man appreciates 
man, would display. 

The general idea of the God beyond God has consider- 
able common human interest, quite outside of Browning. 
We find traces of such conceptions in many mythologies, 
in child life, and in the ideas even of some very unimagi- 
native people. A writer on English country parish life 
narrated a few years since a story, according to which a 
clergyman, who had frequently condoled in a formal way 
with a steadily unfortunate farmer amongst his parish- 
ioners, and who had often referred in this connection to 


the mysterious ways of Providence, was one day shocked 
by the farmer's outburst : " Yes, I well know it was Provi- 
dence spoiled my crops. It was Providence did this and 
did that. I hate Providence. But there 's One above 
that '11 see it all righted for me yet." This is an example 
of the Over-God. 

Well, the God beyond God appears in Caliban's the- 
ology, very explicitly, as " the something over Setebos 
that made him, or he, maybe, found and fought." " There 
may be something quiet o'er his head." Caliban at one 
point develops the idea until it degrades Setebos to a 
relatively low rank ; but thereupon he finds the attributes 
of " The Quiet " unworkably lofty, and devotes the rest 
of his ingenuity to Setebos. In far nobler form, Ixion 
rises from Zeus to the higher law and life beyond him. I 
have already mentioned David's use of a similar process 
in his gradual rise towards his wonderful climax. On the 
other hand, and for very obvious reasons, Augustus Csesar 
in the poem in ' Asolando,' while he is celebrated by his 
flatterers and subjects not only as already the God of 
Power, but also as the proper dethroner of Jove, lives in 
the shadow of the fear of the Over-God that may any day 
make worm's meat of him. And meanwhile, Augustus 
reigning, Christ is born. John, dying in the desert, pro- 
phesies that in future, just because of this general problem 
of might beyond might, some will arise who will say that 
there is no Power at all in the universe, but only natural 
law. Both John and the poet obviously, as we saw, make 
light of this way of escape. The true significance of the 
striving beyond the God of Power is its tendency to bring 
us into the presence of the God of Love. I do not know 
whether it has often been consciously observed that herein 
lies at least part of the incomparable irony of that thrilling 
closing line of Count Guide's last speech. Guido has 
already fully explained his theology to the death-watch 
about him, stating, to be sure, a not altogether harmonious 


system of opinion. At one point he believes in a certain 
Jove ^Egiochus, the segis-bearer, as the one highest power 
a belief not inconsistent, he says, with a reasonable 
polytheism. One needs powers beyond powers, for various 
reasons. The main concern for this dying wretch is to 
find out who is really the highest power in the universe, 
since he himself is badly in need of help. In a fashion 
that even in its ghastly burlesque, after all, suggests by 
its form the radiant flight of David through the glorious 
world of the higher powers, Guido now flees, but through 
his own bosom's hell, seeking for a power that one can 
somehow rest upon. He meets face to face more than 
once the God of his church, a power more unacceptable 
and incomprehensible to him than the others. Hereupon 
he elaborately defies all Power. He has never taken the 
Pope for God. In heaven he never will take God for the 
Pope. But in vain: he falls helpless at last, and, even 
while he wrestles beneath hell's most overwhelming might, 
still, like Ixion, like Karshish, and like David, he con- 
ceives at last the Over-God, afar off, be} r ond the great 
gulf fixed ; and this Over-God, mentioned in his final cry 
for help after all the powers, after Grand Duke, Pope, 
Cardinal, Christ, Maria, God, is Pompilia. At last, 
even from the depths of hell, even in the chaos of error, 
one has thus conceived of the God of Love, and thus 
Guido, too, learns the deeper meaning of the Incarnation. 
His cry is as heretical as the irony of his fate is bitter, 
but he at least has called on the name of what is beyond 

It is interesting to glance at the corresponding process 
occurring in a purely Grecian setting. I have already 
mentioned Euripides, as Browning viewed his position. 
Euripides, as exhibited in the Pope's statement of his 
faith, fails in some respects to conform to Browning's own 
categories ; for our poet is here portraying an independent 
historical personality, whose way of approaching the ulti- 


mate problems is not precisely his own. But still the 
general parallelism is obvious. Euripides, so the Pope 
here tells us, recognises Nature as the world of power. 
Nature, for Euripides, has unity, and somehow imparts 
this unity of the Eternal and the Divine to the doubtful 
and manifold world of the gods beneath. The gods, as 
symbols of this power, to which they have relations to us 
quite mysterious, are deserving of awe " because of power." 
Yet, on the other hand, man knows, through the witness 
of his own heart, a truth whose warrant is superior to that 
of this whole world of powers. " I," says Euripides, in 
this dramatic statement of his case, 

I, untouched by one adverse circumstance, 
Adopted virtue for my rule of life, 
Waived all reward, loved but for loving's sake, 
And what my heart taught me, 1 taught the world. 

This consciousness of the supremacy of virtue raises Euri- 
pides to the world where love is above power : 

Therefore, what gods do, man may criticise, 
Applaud, condemn, how should he fear the truth 1 

Thus, bold 

Yet self-mistrusting, should man bear himself, 
Most assured on what now concerns him most 
The law of his own life, the path he prints, 
Which law is virtue and not vice, I say, 
And least inquisitive where search least skills, 
I" the nature we best give the clouds to keep. 

Euripides, too, in his way, then, found the Over-God, and 
found him in the world of love, beyond nature, and yet 
within man's heart. It is this quality which Browning 
finds in Euripides, this beginning of a conquest of the 
realm of power in the interest of man, and in the quest 
for love that makes Euripides, in our poet's eyes, the 
chief of the Greek tragedians. Balaustion, at the close of 
her first adventure, retells, in this sense, the Alkestis 
legend. The conquest of death, the power of powers, by 
love simply as love, and not by any might, this, Balaus-' 



tion tells us, is the deeper ideal that Euripides has awak- 
ened in her own heart. In her narrative the death-goddess 
herself recognises the Over-God in the person of Alkestis. 
This is the poem that Euripides meant, even if he could 
not quite make it. But the ideal story of the Alkestis, 
thus retold, comes very near in its significance to the tale 
that arouses the insistent wonder of Karshish. The rais- 
ing from the dead of Alkestis or of Lazarus, what mat- 
ters the name of the tale, so long as it arouses afresh the 
thought to which the doctrine of the incarnation bears 
witness, the thought that, if ever we pierce through the 
world of Power to the heart of it, to that which is beyond 
Power, we find, as the Over-God, Love ? 


Such then, for Browning, the inner process whereby we 
pass from the conception of Power to that of Love. Some 
inherent restlessness forbids the partisans of Power to 
remain in their own realm. Their souls are always dis- 
content with their own conceptions. They are themselves 
lovers, and to seek the sun is their destiny. 

But the fully awakened lover, who conceives God as 
Love, is now, after all, in presence of his hardest trial. 
For if the God of Power has been thus always transformed 
into the God of Love, the God of Love remains responsible 
for all the horrors of the world of Power. The problem 
of evil looms up before one, the dark tower at the end of 
this long quest. What has the poet to say of this prob- 
lem ? How reconcile Love with Power in the world as 
we know it ? 

Already, in stating the meaning that Love has for 
Browning, we have indicated that love, which is so com- 
plex and paradoxical a thing, involves, from our poet's 
point of view, very much more than mere benevolence. 
In Shelley's ' Prometheus,' the war of Love and Power is 
depicted in terms such as in some wise appeal to Browning, 


as he himself has told us. But love, in Shelley's mind, 
means pure kindliness, benevolence, mutual toleration and 
a fondness for lovely objects. And so Shelley's only solu- 
tion of the problem of Evil is simply that Eternal Love 
has unaccountably absented himself from the present 
world, leaving there, as reigning monarch, the Power- 
tyrant Zeus. Why love has done this is an absolutely 
inexplicable and capricious mystery. Some day, in an 
equally capricious fashion, Eternal Love is to return, and 
then, by a single magical act, he will hurl the tyrant head- 
long into the abyss. Henceforth the stars will sing, and 
Prometheus and the ladies will weave flowers and tell 
stories, and they all will live happy ever after. This is 
the essentially trivial thought that Shelley makes explicit 
in a poem whose wonderful beauty and true significance 
really depend upon something of which Shelley was uncon- 
scious, namely, upon the eternal fact, richly though 
unconsciously illustrated by Shelley, that the world of the 
sufferingly heroic Prometheus Bound, the unconquerable 
lover, is actually far more significant and noble, despite 
Zeus the accursed, than is the later world of Prometheus 
the Loosed, as Shelley himself pictures it ; namely, the 
world free from Zeus and devoted to agreeable society and 
to flowers, but with nothing whatever in it for one to do 
save to be petted, admired, and caressingly encouraged to 
tell Asia and Panthea how once upon a time one used to 
be a hero. The true moral of Shelley's ' Prometheus ' is 
that, in an ideal world of Love, we can indeed well get 
on without tyrants, but that we cannot get on without 
heroes, who must, as heroes, not only love but suffer; 
not only sing but endure ; not only be kindly but be 
strenuous ; not only wear flowers, but bear on their brows, 
upon occasion, the cold sweat of an anguish freely accepted 
for cause. 

Now it is just this strenuous aspect of the significant life 
of love that Browning always consciously sees. Hence, 


when he tries to reconcile the world of Power with the 
world of Love, he does not, like Shelley, picture a solution 
in terms of mere benevolence and jollity. Both benevo- 
lence and jollity he praises, but they do not make the 
whole of Love. Love includes strenuousness ; therefore 
the human lover must be often far from his goal, embarked 
on a dark quest, and so at war with Power. Love means 
triumph amid suffering, and so the fifty and more ' Men 
and Women' must illustrate love's griefs and blindness 
quite as much as love's attainment. For the lover of the 
two lyrics, ' Love in a Life ' and ' Life in a Love,' the very 
power that holds him away from his beloved is consciously 
recognised as at one with the spirit of his love ; for, as he 
declares, endless pursuit is the only conceivable form of 
endless attainment. If these things are so, then even the 
divine love itself must need for its fulfilment these strug- 
gles, paradoxes, estrangements, pursuits, mistakes, failures, 
dark hours, sins, hopes, and horrors of the world of human 
passion in which, according to our poet, the divine is in- 
carnate. Perfect love includes and means the very ex- 
perience of suffering, and of powers that oppose love's 
aims. Herein may yes, must lie the solution of the 
problem of Evil. 

This general doctrine, for which our author's whole 
range of lyric poetry furnishes the illustration, is given an 
expressly theological turn, as suggesting the true and 
general reconciliation of the worlds of Love and Power, 
in a number of places. It is this view, as a justification 
of the ills of the world, that is stated by Abt Vogler, who 
prefers the musical metaphors known already to the Greek 
Heraclitus, and who declares that discord is essential to a per- 
fect series of harmonies, and that the whole may be perfect 
even where the parts are evil. Rabbi Ben Ezra employs 
other figures, but expresses the same intuition. The poet 
himself is never content with the present life as showing 
us the sufficient solution of the problem ; but he sees, in 



the world as it is, enough of love's faint beginnings in 
mankind to be sure that with more life more light would 
come, until we learned of God's love, not by getting rid 
of the world of dark Power, but by seeing in Power, as 
the opponent of Love, the source of that element of con- 
flict, of paradox, of suffering, and of ignorance, without 
which Love Love that is heroic in conflict, earnest with 
problems, patient in suffering, and faithful amidst doubts 
could never possess the fulness of the divine life. That 
divine life, completed in God, incarnate in man, is much 
hidden from us by death, but is somewhere fully seen as 
good, when viewed in the light of the attainment and 
wholeness of the external world. 

This appears to be Browning's theistic faith, never 
a philosophy, always an intuition, but freely illustrated 
from experience, and insistently pondered through long 
and manifold arguments. By this faith he met, in his 
own way, the problems set before him not only by life, 
but by that extremely complex product of tradition, the 
Christian conception of God. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, November 23, 1886.] 

THE most splendid tomb in the world is probably the Taj, 
erected by a Mogul emperor as the burial-place of his 
favourite wife. Made wholly of white marble, which in 
India retains the quarried brilliancy, it is more magnificent 
than the cathedral of Milan, and is properly considered 
the perfection of Indian architecture. A noble gateway 
admits the visitor to a carriage path running between low, 
Moorish arched buildings, at the end of which rises a 
second gateway surmounted by little domes, by itself 
beautiful enough to be a memorable monument. Continu- 
ing along a marble pavement through tropical foliage, one 
sees ahead the dome of the Taj resting apparently upon 
dense verdure. At length, a succession of marble terraces 
leads to a platform upon which the whole structure rests. 
Within the temple, beneath the dome, is a circular marble 
screen, carved in delicate tracery and studded with coloured 
gems. Enclosed by the screen is a sarcophagus on which 
is cut an inscription in Arabic. The name of the lady 
buried here is Moomtaz Mahal. 

I hope it is not due only to the fascination of the 
oriental picture that I see in it a helpful image of the 
poetic edifice raised by Robert Browning. The reader 
passes through the gateway of ' Paracelsus, ' sees a few 
poems on his way to the second gateway, ' Sordello,' then 
treads a path flagged with dramas and lyrics until he 



reaches a great structure, ' The Ring and the Book,' in 
which is enshrined Pompilia, the poet's loveliest creation. 

A traveller toward the Taj may from a distant hill catch 
sight of his goal and discover the arrangement of the 
whole, then plunge into the valley and proceed for a time 
before the marble portals of the first gateway appear in 
front of him. Let us leave our broad glance at Browning's 
poetry and approach it by a somewhat hidden path. 

Browning is a fnost prolific writer, and his admirers, 
/ remembering, perhaps, that imitation is the sincerest 
flattery, have likewise become prolific writers. Conse- 
quently Browning and his commentators by themselves 
form a small library, and this bulk is being constantly 
increased. An essayist would be presuming as well as 
unwise who attempted to treat more than a small and well- 
defined portion of a subject that has been so fully discussed. 

Let us attempt a short study of Browning's art in mono- 
logue, a neglected field, and one that will repay investiga- 
tion because it is his^fyle more than his matter that dis- 
courages readers who open his pages for the first time. The 
form rather than the substance of Browning's poetry will be 
our concern the growth of the poet's mastery^jover his 
material. In doing this we shall necessarily deal a little 
with the character of the material which the poet wished to 
embody. Before we begin a close examination of his work, 
however, let us consider for a moment the man himself. 

Robert Browning, the poet, club-man, scholar, theo- 
^ logian, is in the first place thoroughly a being of the nine- 
teenth century. Any one familiar merely with the titles of 
his poems might suppose his sympathies were entirely with 
*the past, especially with mediaeval life; but such is not 
the case. Every fibre of his mind is strained over nine- 
teenth century problems, and no matter what the scene or 
the time, or the system of philosophy he chooses to wrap 
around his subjects, at the centre is a question of to-day. 
Indeed, it may be said that what Browning is as a thinker, 


the age has made him. Let us bring before our minds the 
master spirits of two widely separate periods. In one 
group stand Sir Philip Sidney, Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, 
Bacon, Spenser, Shakespeare; in the other Turgenieff, 
George Eliot, John Stuart Mill, Matthew Arnold, Carlyle, 
Newman. A light seems to shine around the first, while 
our own great ones stand in a shadow weighed down with 
thought. Seriousness is the "note " of the passing genera- 
tion. It has witnessed the moral agitations that led to 
the emancipation of the Russian serf and negro slaves. 
It has seen a world-wide organisation aim to cure the 
ravages of drunkenness, and a peaceful army arise for sav- 
ing men, body and soul. Ethics temper even the mechani- 
cal laws of political economy. To-day we look at the 
moral side of a question and neglect the others ; we must 
understand how a fact will affect our lives before we 
accept it. Art and science petition the individual to listen 
to their claims. "Here is my Prime Minister, Life," 
replies the man ; " he will read your suit and report to me 
his opinion of its value." Ethics, not metaphysics, is 
with us the popular form of philosophy. The studies that 
explain the relations of life are the ones now most esteemed. 
In Herbert Spencer's phrase we exclaim, "How to live, 
that is the essential question for us.'* JVVhat is art or 
science to me if it cannot teach me how to live ? To con- 
template, even to create beauty does not satisfy me. I 
must know what life means, then absorb all beauty and all 
knowledge into myself. Nothing is of any account, except 
as it helps me to be, except as it develops my soul. The 
world talks in such fashion to-day to those who would 
gain its ear. Its favourites are poet-painters, like Millet 
and Corot, philosophers who deal with social problems, 
novelists who moralise, like Thackeray and George Eliot, 
poets who preach, like Wordsworth. All the great men of 
the age, one might say, have accepted chairs of ethics, and 
have agreed from some point or other to approach and 


expound that great subject. Goethe, with his calm plan 
nf splf-p.nlt.nrp. whir.h nothing interrupted, nnnld not have 
been produced in this century. We demand that our 
leaders shall forget themselves j,nd be of practical use 
to us. Many of our spiritual benefactors have a talent 
for verse that would have blossomed under Elizabeth: 
Thackeray, Dickens, Newman, Carlyle, George Eliot, 
Charles Kingsley, Emerson. 

The men just named thought they could best help the 
world by talking to it in prose rather than in verse, al- 
though they loved verse. Robert Browning settled the ' 
question differently. He appreciates the spirit of his times, 
but in his nature imagination and reason are blended after 
so unusual a fashion that his best efforts to teach must ap- 
pear in the form of verse. He gives us his reasons for his 
choice : r- 

I Why take the artistic way to prove so much ? 

rv j Because it is the glory and good of Art, " 

n[ That Art remains the one way possible 

\ Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine, at least. 

By noticing the leading characteristics of the last fifty 
years moral earnestness, and its greatest desire, to be 
taught, we have seen what kind of a man a leader in our 
time must presumably be; namely, a teacher of morals. 
When then we admit that Browning is one of the great 
men of the century^we already know enough of his char- 
acter to understand a discussion of his art, for we expect 
him to be a moralist. 

Many persons have thought the modern atmosphere too 
scientific, too work-a-day for poetry to thrive. Many have 
held poetry a toy, to be cast away when life begins to look 
as stern as it does to us. A few have not accepted these 
opinions, and in spite of the mechanical and thoughtful 
generation upon which they fell, have cultivated the 
Muses with success. There have been in our time two 
answers to the question which shall be the poet's attitude 
towards his generation. 


Each one of our poets has settled the question of his 
relations to the world in his own way. One waives aside 
the earnest pleading of the age, and denies that there is 
any valuable new discovery about life awaiting it. Those 
that answer in this way, regard the Time as out of joint, 
and maintain the best thing to be done is to resuscitate 
the art of some happier age and make ourselves as com- 
fortable as possible. I am still marking divisions roughly 
when I place Keats and the Swinburne-Rossetti school in 
this class. The second answer is given by such men as 
Shelley, Wordsworth, and Browning. These poets believe 
that the nineteenth century stands upon a vantage ground, 
that its aspirations are upward, and wjiile the future of 
their vision may seem, as it does to Mr. Arnold, "Power- 
less to be born," they nevertheless believe it will come 
and meanwhile do what they can to speed its advent. 
They recognise the confusion that exists in the minds 
of many, but believe it to be the ferment of a new life. 
The quality of the age is good, and its instincts, if obeyed, 
will lead it to heights of knowledge and art never before 
attained. The second group of poets, therefore, say that 
the poetry of the nineteenth century should be the herald 
of these truths that are dimly seen in the distance, and 
have determined for themselves the poetic mould in which 
their thought shall be cast. 

The general readers of poetry have got into an expectant 
mood, and think that the art they enjoy should show a 
new development to correspond to the new knowledge and 
new experiences the world has gained, that new wine 
should have new bottles. But when Browning constructs 
something to meet this need, the public at first laughs at 
his oddness, as though a new thing were not to be different 
from an old after all. It might ask at least his reasons for 
making such a structure. 

Before we examine the make-up of his verse, however, 
and try to explain the form in which it is cast, there is 




a word that ought to be defined. The word "Classic." has 
almost magical powers, but its meaning is little under- 
stood. Let us recall the theory of art which the ancient 
Greeks held. It was considered the function of art to 
discover in nature the eternal, and to give it form, that 
this universal residuum might be apprehended through the 
senses, while the accidental was left to perish. The ideal 
human form is a type of eternal beauty ; sculpture should 
represent it detached from all circumstances. We wonder 
at the multitude of statues of Greek divinities that exhibit 
no trace of emotion on their faces, but in every muscle 
repose and the majesty of calm. To the Greek, however, 
art would have been pandering to a morbid taste, if it 
gave other expression to the body. A furrow on the brow, 
a strained muscle, quite as much as clothing, were acci- 
dents which disturbed the beauty of the simple form. 

Poetry obeys the same law, and must give voice to 
truth, omitting as far as possible all that relates merely to 
the time, all peculiarities, and the "personal equation," as 
we call that touch which tells us more about the author 
and his age than about man and all ages. The great love 
that Antigone felt for her brother is confronted by Kreon's 
decree that no one shall bury the body of her brother on 
pain of death. It is a law of human nature that such love 
as hers would despise death. In that one fact lies wrapped 
up the whole play. Each actor is true to his nature, and 
the result is tragic, it must be so. The poet takes the 
fact and lets it act itself out in his verse, as terribly true 
and necessary as gravity. His only carens not to hide the 
operation of the principle by details that are merely acci- 
dental and do not grow out of his first fact, Antigone's 
love set against Kreon's law. A perfect play according 
to a Greek standard is as naked as a perfect statue. A 
)oet is classic, then, when he does not obtrude himself, but 
merely transcribes into poetic form the universal truth he 
has discovered. A poet is not classic, when he overlays 


the truth he would reveal by comments of his own ; when, 
in fact, he asks you to look at a truth through his eyes, 
and does not present it and then leave you to get acquainted 
as you can. 

When a perfect human form is at last set free from the 
marble, when some deep truth of human nature reveals 
itself in action in a drama, is this the end of art, that a 
masterpiece exists? From the contemplation of beautiful 
objects we ascend to the contemplation of absolute beauty ; 
from each work of art the observer should learn something 
about the truth and beauty that are in God, at least so 
Plato taught. Moreover, Aristotle tells us that tragedy 
purifies by exciting in our breast pity and fear; and per- 
haps this saying was in Emerson's mind when he wrote, 
"only that is poetry which cleanses and mans me." 

But art to-day does not often enough penetrate to the 
soul by either of these methods; does not cleanse it by 
pity and fear, or light it by giving it an impulse along 
the road to absolute beauty and truth in God. We, on the 
contrary, are satisfied with a sensuous enjoyment of the 
object before us. The effect is superficial. The poet 
to-day who will not stoop to gratify a low appreciation of 
art, by producing what has only a surface beauty, but who 
will adhere to the classic idea of art and try to unfold 
truth, has a labour which the Greek poets did not have. 
If the final object of poetry is the cleansing and lifting 
of the soul, the poet must eke out the spiritual inertia of 
his audience, and attach to his revelation of beauty an 
index finger pointing up to absolute beauty. The way 
in which a modern artist fixes upon his work a tag that 
shall explain it, is illustrated in Keats 's ' Ode on a Grecian 
Urn.' Four stanzas of the ode simply reproduce the 
beauty of the exquisite shape, and it has rarely happened 
that one art has been so happily transcribed into the 
symbols of another. Finally, as though he heard the age 
saying, ''yes, very beautiful, but what of it?" he writes a 



fifth stanza, attaches a card to the urn, which tells us the 
universal truth contained in the beautiful object before us. 

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
" Beauty is truth, truth beauty," that is all 
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. 

The artist to-day in one work must both do something 
and explain what he has done, if he wishes to do more 
than please the eye or ear, or tickle the fancy for a 
moment. How this second or explanatory function is to 
be added to the first or the universal one is the problem 
of art among ourselves; if the answers shown us look 
strange, it is what we may expect, and what painting 
the lily has always been. Such is the composite art in 
which Browning's genius has expressed itself. 

I think we now see that a modern poet who represents 
the thought of his age cannot be classic in the Greek 
sense, but that he must be ornate, overlaying the truth 
he would reveal with a multitude of analogies and sug- 
gestive comments. It must also be said that life to-day 
presents greater complexity to the observer than it did in 
the days of Homer. The general characteristic, profusion 
of ornament, all nineteenth century poetry must have in 
some measure. The poetry of any given man falls into the 
lyric, the dramatic, or the epic mould according to his 
nature. The fact that Horace wrote lyrics and Milton 
epics does not denote an intellectual choice merely. To 
express themselves best they had to choose these forms; 
given their natures their form of verse followed. 

It is the glory and good of Art 
That Art remains the one way possible 
Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least. 

When we look at the outside of Browning's poetry, let 
us remember the fact we have observed, and not say that 
the odd appearance it presents is a whim with no necessary 


relation to the poet, or that he might have made it essen- 
tially different. It is because the average reader has been 
frightened at first sight and knows only a portion of the 
surface of Browning's poetry, that the poet's name has 
come to be a sort of catch-word for what is foggy. That 
people have been repelled by the rough outside of his verse 
may be but another case of that which is illustrated by 
the cathedral window, from without dark and blotchy, 
from within radiant and beautiful. Master the poet's 
thought, then criticise his form, not vice versa. Study a 
poet's nature and his time, then ask if his art is a natural 
conclusion from these premises. If he is true to his nature 
and his age, he will write poetry that is true ; if he and 
his age are great, his verse will be proportionally broader 
and profounder. We cannot demand more of a poet than 
that he be the truest poet of his generation its voice. 
Homer was only this ; Dante was no more. If from some 
position aloof from all time you look down upon the great 
poets and say one is greater than another, you are only 
passing judgment upon the world at the time in which 
they lived; they were its image, its microcosm, that is 

Browning is a theologian with a genius for poetry. By 
theologian I mean a man who asks of everything in life, 
" What is your effect upon that eternal thing, the human 
soul?" and assigns values altogether from the human soul 
as a centre. Dante, rather than Jonathan Edwards, is a 
typical theologian as I use the word. The most inquiring 
minds the world has produced have recognised in the uni- 
verse three distinct phases of life, the spiritual, the 
human, the material, manifested in God, man, and nature. 
Man receives influences from a spiritual source that he 
cannot see, and from a material source that he can see, 
while he himself combines spirit and matter. All along 
men have tried to simplify the relations of man to what is 
outside himself, by ignoring one of the three factors. 


Some have declared that God might be cancelled from the 
problem, and have then dealt with man and nature. 
Others engross man and nature under one law. In some 
way or other, the philosophic mind has,' like the shrewd 
Horatius, reduced his three antagonists to one, then quickly 
despatched them, and proclaimed his victory an explana- 
tion of the relations of life. Browning, however, has 
not tampered with the problem, but has honestly tried to 
answer the question as it was given him ; this is my reason 
for calling him a theologian. 

His theology accepts human nature, and does not say 
that any power possessed by man should be crushed out of 
him. The monk subduing the flesh by the scourge is a 
picture hateful to it. This theology tells the soul to 
nil "h^nnty nrrl nsf th Q nniyfrpft b^aiififi it i 

Trujjig in atarnify. But the SOul JS not nourished by 

beauty alone: it is enlarged by knowledge ; it is strength- 
ened by accepting hard tasks ; it is purified by self-sacrifice, 
which is the essence of love, and so grows towards God. 
The judgment day, that mediaeval bugbear, " is not a crisis 
at the end of life here ; a man is judged in every act as the 
soul grows strong or weak by its choices ; the judgment is 
a process, not a special scene after death. Life moves on 
ceaselessly, death is no barrier. Such are some marks of 
Browning's theology. 

Milton discusses seventeenth century theology and prob- 
lems of government in epic poems^. Browning treats nine- 
teenth century theology in monologue, a form which he 
has unearthed from the Middle Ages and developed into 
something with as distinct advantages as the lyric, drama, 
or epic. Although Browning has written many excellent 
dramas, in which he has been truer to classic definitions 
than most English poets, yet this species of composition is 
not congenial to his genius, just as it is not congenial to 
the spirit of the times. As has been seen, the poet to-day 
must give a running commentary on the truth his verse 


embodies; he must expose it to many cross-lights to bring 
out all its beauties before untrained eyes ; he must inter- 
pret his fact by a multitude of analogies, that it may be 
readily received by minds not so severely trained as the 
Greek, who could see the curve in the apparently straight 
lines of the Parthenon. In modern or ancient drama, since 
the main interest is in the action, any kind of comment 
obscures the movement of the plot. We frequently find 
this fault in Shakespeare ; a profusion of imagery hinders 
the progress of events. Therefore the drama is not the 
best medium for the thought of a modern poet, and the 
fact that Milton's epics are so little read may sufficiently 
condemn the epic mould for the purposes of to-day. 

The/ form Browning chose we have called the mono- 
logue. Hamlet's soliloquy, if put out by itself as a com- 
plete poem, and if there were no play of ' Hamlet, ' would 
be an example of this form. It must be very inartistic, 
one thinks, to make a poem consist of nothing but a 
soliloquy, yet there are analogies in received forms. The 
sonnet is practically a soliloquy of fourteen lines, subject 
to definite rules. No one in particular is addressed in a 
sonnet, not even the Muse. The poet is talking to him- 
self. The lyrical and personal qualities of the sonnet 
without the rigid rules is the spirit of monologue. There 
is a form of sonnet made up of dialogue. One person 
speaks in the odd lines; a second answers in the even 
lines. Action, therefore, can go on in a sonnet, and not 
merely be described. In a ballad, action is still more 
possible, as we see in 'Chevy-Chase' or 'The Ancient < 
Mariner.' Action and description find a natural vehicle A_ 
in lyric poetry, a kind of verse suited for subjectivv 
impressions rather than objective reproduction. Browning 
has tried to find a form of lyric poetry ^njvhich action and; 
description would exist most happily side by side. As any 
artist Browning's work has been to discover and develop 
the possibilities in monologue. When we put aside his 


dramas and examine his poetry from the standpoint of the 
monologue, we see in all that he has done a unity. In 
J' Paracelsus ' and 'Sordello' he was experimenting with 
his materials; in 'The Ring and the Book' he mastered 
them. A student of Browning can best comprehend his 
art through these three poems. 

Perhaps, in the true spirit of Browning, I attach too 
much importance to my figure of the Taj, with its two 
gateways. Still I think we had better keep it in mind as 
we study the poet's masterpiece, where Pompilia rests, 
and the two earlier poems, in workmanship tentative and 
introductory. Yet after I ask you to accept my image I 
must risk marring it. It must be acknowledged that 
'Paracelsus ' is not Browning's first poem, nor is it to the 
eye a monologue. However, no harm is done to our first 
gateway; at most it is only given a double arch. 

'Pauline,' the first weak child of our poet's muse, was 
exposed upon the barren hillside of public neglect. It 
was rescued and deposited in the British Museum. An 
accident compelled its author late in life to acknowledge 
it. 'Paracelsus,' which takes up pretty much the same 
subject, is counted as his first work by the poet, and is 
accepted as such by the public. Secondly, although to 
the eye a page of 'Paracelsus ' looks like a dialogue, it is 
not. There are a number of speakers Festus, Aprile, 
Michal but they do not help the action. They merely 
give Paracelsus an occasional breathing space, or jog his 
memory when his mind wanders. Therefore, when we 
start upon a study of Browning's art in monologue with 
'Paracelsus,' we are really doing what he would ask us 
to do. Still, a few points in the style of both poems are 
more easily studied in the earlier one where a less finished 
art fails to hide the machinery. 

'Pauline,' a fragment of a confession, is a monologue 
in blank verse of about a thousand lines. The speaker is 
at the point of death, though presumably young, and talks 


to Pauline, the woman he loves. He reviews his life, and 
discusses the points in its development and the causes of 
his mistakes. He has heen pulled in two different 

I would have one joy, 
But one in life, so it were wholly mine, 
One rapture all my soul could fill 

On the other hand wisdom attracts him. 

This restlessness of passion meets in me 

A craving after knowledge . . . 

The sleepless harpy with just budding wings. 

His position is a variation of the choice of Hercules, 
Venus contending with Minerva for the possession of a 
soul. He vacillates, and in his weakness secures the help 
of neither goddess. As we see him lying there talking to 
Pauline, we imagine that Fannie Brawne has come to that 
lonely room in Rome where Keats lies in his fatal sickness, 
and that at last she listens weeping, perhaps, as the poet 
goes over his whole life, pours out his soul to her for the 
last time. 

Indeed, the influence of Keats is very perceptible in 
'Pauline;' yet there is also an intellectual element, a 
disposition to weigh the value of tilings, wholly alien to 
Keats. The thoughtful vein in the poem reminds us of 
Shelley; and 'Alastor,' both in form and spirit, may 
easily have been the poetic father of Browning's first 
poem. Browning admired Shelley most of modern poets, 
and the following lines hi the poem we are examining no 

doubt refer to him : -' ?' 

And my choice fell 
Not so much on a system as a man 
On one, whom praise of mine shall not offend, 
Who was as calm as beauty, being such 
Unto mankind as thon to me, Pauline. 

Although life has perplexed Pauline's lover, and he 
has not known which to choose, beauty or knowledge, 


now at last by the light of love he will see things more 

For I . . . 

Shall doubt not many another bliss awaits 

As I again go o'er the tracts of thought. 

And beauteous shapes will come for me to seize, 
And unknown secrets will be trusted me 
Which were denied the waverer. 

In 'Pauline,' Browning shows that as an artist, he is 
not as yet self-centred ; there are too many marks of Keats 
and Shelley. Nevertheless, he is struggling towards a 

\natural expression. He did not reach his poetic majority 
luntil 'Paracelsus.' He neglects to fix the scene of the 
\lconfession, which shows how early he despised what did 
"not, to his mind, help the reader's study of a soul. Such 
vagueness we should expect in Shelley. On the other 
hand, the opening lines of the poem are quite in the style 
of Keats, 

Pauline, mine own, bend o'er me thy soft breast 
Shall pant to mine bend o'er me thy sweet eyes, 
And loosened hair, etc. 

But the glow of sensuousness in the beginning of the poe 
soon pales away into cold, intellectual talk about beau 
and knowledge. 

Browning perceived his tendency toward coldness and 
monotony, and tried to lighten the burden of his readers by 
introducing two episodes, one a description of Andromeda 
and the Dragon ; the other a picture of an ideal abode for 
lovers tliat reminds us of Claude Melnotte's home on Lake 
Como. To help the verse bear off with greater trip- 
pingness a subject that inclined to meditative slowness, 
frequent epigrams are used. There are more lines in 
'Pauline ' that look as if framed to be quoted than in all 
the rest of Browning's poetry. Most of these ornaments 
are short, a line or two. I will venture to quote one 



rather longer than the rest. Autumn stands before us as 
she might look in a painting by Rossetti. 

Autumn has come like spring returned to us, 
Won from her girlishness ; like one returned 
A friend that was a lover, nor forgets 
The first warm love, but full of sober thoughts 
Of fading years ; whose soft mouth quivers yet 
With the old smile, but yet so changed and still ! 

In the later works there is almost an entire absence of 
passages that lend themselves readily to quotation. A 
good thought or a happy analogy is left to take care of 
itself, and is not helped, by roundness of period or gram- 
matical construction, to stand out brighter than its fellows. 
The choicest passages in a poem may begin and end any- 
where in a line, and fall in any person, number, or tense. 
Instead of being easily detached, they are embedded well- 
nigh inextricably in the whole. Turn with me to the 
second arch of our first gateway. 

^aracelsus' consists of some four thousand lines of 
blank verse, broken by a number of songs. In form a 
dialogue between JParacels us, Festus, Aprile, and Michal, 
itls^really a monologue. Says the author: 

" It is an attempt, probably more novel than happy, to re- 
verse ithemethodusuallya^ it is to 
set forth any phenomena of the mind or the passions by the 
operation of persons and events ; and that, instead of having 
recourse to an external machinery of incidents to create and \ f 
evolve the crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to^isplay fi 
somewhat minutely the /mood itself in its rise and progress^ and I; 
have suffered the agency by which it is influenced and deter- 
mined, to be generally discernible in its effects alone, and 
subordinate throughout, if not altogether excluded ; and this 
for a reason. I have endeavoured to write a poem T not a ( 

The poem opens in the year 1512 A. D. Onward from 
that date the friends meet four or five times before the 


close of the half century, and on these occasions Jaracelsus 
gives a narrative of what has befallen him, which, with 
occasional interruptions from the others, constitutes the 

Paracelsus would grasp all knowledge and glorify God 
by shining upon men like a star of wisdom. Every 
pleasure, every reward of praise or love, he pushed aside ; 
his goal alone can attract him. He despises the praise 
of men, and shows them he can do without it ; they in 
turn hate him. He laughs at their enmity, and they 
denounce him. But they were right and he was wrong. 
It was because he was out of sympathy with them that he 
thought them such contemptible creatures. When they 
would not listen to his cold, loveless visions, he stoops to 

, and exchanges~the power of superior knowledge 
for the power of trickery. He attempts to hold them by 
using like a magician their passions and superstitions ; but 
his wiles are seen through, and he is thrust out by the 
popylace as a charlatan. 

ffirst, Paracelsus learned that knowledge must go hand 
irfi hand with love. Secondly, that a soul must be true to 
its own highest light, and never stoop to use a mean 
instrument, whether it gains its ambition or not. Aprile, 
a poet, represents the voice of love which throughout life 
called constantly to Paracelsus, but to which he was deaf. 
Festus stands tor faith in FaracelsusT ljut Paracelsus lost 
faith in himself. At last, however, he sees what a mis- 
take his plan of life had been, and with his last breath 

Festus, let my hand 

This hand, lie in your own, my own true friend ! 

Aprile ! hand in hand with you, Aprile! 

Festus. And this was Paracelsus. 

The author did right to define a work as a poem that on 
tne outside looked like a 'drama. Paracelsus' cannot 
bejictea because it has no action. Its force, therefore, is 


best felt in a reading; but it is hard reading. No one 
knows whether the experience of Paracelsus represents 
aright the soul's growth until he has passed through 
similar experiences. To one who has passed through like 
crises, the poem is a twice-told tale ; he knows the story 
and its lesson. To one who has not lived such a life, the 
crises are either barely intelligible, that is, as necessary 
steps in a soul's development, or in comparison with 
action, they are but slightly interesting. The wisdom of 
the whole could be contained in half a dozen sonnets, and 
in that form would stand a much better chance than at 
present of becoming widely known. Throughout a poem 
as long as all of the Ovid we used to read for college, it is 
a labour to keep in mind the intermediate steps of progress 
from knowing to loving, a capital sonnet-subject, by the 

There is no personal attraction about any of the charac- 
ters. Aprile comes in with a catching verse, but he is 
too much of an abstraction to interest us. The fact that 
there is too little that is tangible in the poem points, I 
think, to the root difficulty in that species of verse which 
describes the soul without much reference to the body. 
It is not purely objective nor subjective. Held up to 
nature it is monstrous egotism. And suppose Browning 
were wrong about Paracelsus, or better, suppose a soul 
does not develop in the way his hero does ; in that case 
we are left with nothing, neither the living, acting 
person of drama, whose character good or bad we unravel 
from his deeds, nor do we have the subjective experience 
of Browning himself when on some occasion he has 
received a powerful emotion. 

Towards the end of the poem a need of cumulative 
effect is felt ; but there is no action to be got out of such 
shades as Paracelsus and Festus. The poet therefore 
allows Paracelsus, when somewhat delirious, to describe 
the vigorous scenes his uncontrolled brain is fashioning. 


The result is striking, but weak and out of harmony with 
the rest. 

Besides its too great length and its shadowy characters, 
little more than personifications, there is another fault, the 
same we saw in ' Pauline, ' - - lack of warmth and move- 
ment. A few sweet songs break the monotony of this 
long poem, and had Browning done nothing else they 
would give him a place in English anthologies. We are 
apt to think of Browning's verse as rough and ragged, 
though, perhaps, like the weapon of Zeus it may be power- 
ful. Yet where can we find more melody than in the 
following lines, which breathe the same spirit as the 
wonderful lyrics of the Elizabethan age, 

Thus the Mayne glideth 

Where my love abideth. 

Sleep 'a no softer : it proceeds 

On through lawns, on through meads, 

On and on, whate'er befall, 

Meandering and musical. 

We feel the pause in the third line, as if the stream ran 
back for a moment upon itself in an eddy, or as if the 
dabbling willow branches made it hard pushing for an 
instant. Then on it hastens, more swiftly after its stay, 
till its force is spent where the meadows lie spread out, 
and the channel winds in great curves. Although a 
matter-of-fact person might declare that when a brook 
begins to meander it ceases to be musical, any poet would 
envy the music of the lines. While Browning has culti- 
vated the music of verse less perhaps than most great 
poets, he has nevertheless t.hp fapppfif, ] oyP far fh?. ^rt of 
Orpheus. His treatment of music in * Abt Vogler * and 
'A Toccata of Galuppi,' must convince one that he had 
an ear and soul appealed to by melodious sounds, 

I would upply ail chasms with music, breathing 
Mysterious notions of the soul, no way 
To be defined save in strange melodies. 


I would like to transcribe all the lyrics in 'Paracelsus,' 
which sound like birds' songs in a thick wood, especially 
the most beautiful and longest one, beginning, ' Over the 
sea our galley went,' which is in Browning's best mature 
style. But I will content myself with a shorter selection, 
one that displays the poet's varied inforrnatiifh framed in 
quaint beauty. 

Heap cassia, sandal-bads and stripes 

Of labdanum aiid aloe-balls, 
Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes 

From out her hair : such balsam falls 

Down sea side mountain pedestals, 
From tree-tops where tired winds are fain, 
Spent with the vast and howling main, 
To treasure half their island-gain. 

And strew faint sweetness from some old 

Egyptian's fine worm-eaten shroud 
Which breaks to dust when once unrolled ; 

Or shredded perfume, like a cloud 

From closet long to quiet vowed, 
With mothed and dropping arras hung, 
Mouldering her lute and books among, 
As when a queen, long dead, was young. 

The second gateway in our approach to Browning's 
masterpiece is 'Sordello, * an historical poem of about six 
thousand lines, in five measure iambic metre with couplet 
rhymes. In a thirteenth century troubadour, Browning 
has found a type of the artist who, with great natural 
gifts and the wish to put knowledge as well as emotion 
into his work, is confused by the events of life, and dies 
without accomplishing anything. The early sensuousness 
of his verse turns into seriousness, and his audience 
deserts him. He is not self-centred enough to work out 
his own nature in spite of circumstances ; he is controlled 
from without. The Guelf and Ghibelline wars are trans- 
forming the beautiful Italian cities into shambles. Sordello 
feels deep sympathy with the people, and is stimulated to 
act, but loses his own identity by exchanging the deeds 


of verse for those of arms. His power consequently is 
dissipated, and his slight accomplishment is, practically, 
failure. Although incapable of action, he can make a 
right choice. When he discovers that he is the son of 
Salinguerra, the most famous Ghibelline soldier, he will 
not accept the imperial badge, which to him meant 
(wrongly, I think) desertion of the people, but tramples it 
underfoot, and in the act dies. This unfortunate poet is 
certainly cousin-german to Pauline's lover. 

As a narrative of events, the poem is- upon a first reading 
unintelligible. Indeed, a friendly hand writes, "it is one 
of the most incomprehensible in all literature." A minute 
knowledge of a most difficult piece of history the Italian 
cities in the later Middle Ages is presumed. Yet did a 
reader possess this knowledge, he would be perplexed by 
the way in which fictitious characters are mixed up with 
historical ones, and he would share the misery of an 
unlearned reader in being utterly unable to keep the 
thread of the story clearly before his mind. The narrative 
goes backward and forward until a web is woven, from 
which the reader cannot extricate himself without help. 

When Browning set about 'Sordello, ' he had learned 
that monologue the recitation of an event by the actor 
was tiresome. Even given the specious appearance of 
dialogue, as in 'Paracelsus,' the effect was the same. He 
changed the mould somewhat in 'Sordello,' which is a 
monologue delivered in the third person. The qualities of N 
the verse were the same, and the ideas to be brought ont 
were the same as in Browning's previous work. "The 
historical decoration was purposely of no more importance 
than a background requires, and my stress lay on the inci- 
dents in the development of a soul." The only new 
factors in this poem are mechanical ones. 

I called attention to a method by which Browning gave 
the closing scene in 'Paracelsus ' a good deal of life. 
The device was to have Paracelsus describe a dream. A 


description of an event by a third person has advantages ; 
it can tell us about people who do not act, yet put action 
into the recital. If, on the contrary, inactive people were 
allowed to work out their own lives as in a drama, or were 
set about describing their lives which, when performance is 
concerned, have been typical failures, no action could be 
expected. If anybody else had written 'Sordello' I 
should call it a narrative poem. Since in Browning's 
hands we recognize the poem to be a new study along the 
line of monologue, I would rather think of it as a mono- 
logue in the third person. 

The quality that Browning wished to give the verse he 
succeeded in giving it. Though the historical tangle 
makes 'Sordello ' hard reading, yet the poem has brilliancy 
and in pa^ts action, though the onward movement is 
obscure. Indeed, it is very much like the man in panto- 
mime, who makes 'all the gestures necessary for a vigorous 
progress, but does not gain ground, only beckons at the 

The means by which he rescued his story from being 
wearisome, however, is not the most important discovery 
that Browning shows us in 'Sordello,' for he uses mono- 
logue in the third person very rarely afterward. The 
great discovery the poet made, which must have rejoiced 
him as Cortez rejoiced 

when with eagle eyes 
He star'd at the Pacific and all his men 
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise 
Silent, upon a peak in Darien, 

was Italy, which he beheld from the Alpine heights of his 
former verse. Browning's theological mind expressed in 
monologue had a tendency to syllogistic nakedness. His 
lofty thought was as cold as it is said the spaces are 
between the stars. In Italy he found not only a gorgeous 
background for his ideas, but men and women of rich 
natures to put upon his stage. I cannot conceive what 


he would have become as a literary workman, had he not 
made the discovery to which I call attention. More meta- 
physical and more learned than any poet of the century, 
many dangers lay in his way. A keener observer, but 
with less fancy than Shelley, his philosophy must have 
found another means of expression from that his predeces- 
sor's bewildering Muse displayed. Without a disposition 
to repose in simple nature like Wordsworth, Browning 
could not have followed along the path of the 'Excur- 
sion.' It may be unprofitable to discuss such hypothetical 
questions, but as far as we can see, it was Italy that saved 
Robert Browning the poet. Otherwise his learning and 
his complex knowledge of the soul must have produced 
the most pedantic and mystic verse imaginable. Such a 
catastrophe, however, we have been spared, and in view 
of what the discovery of Italy was to Browning and to 
English poetry, one is tempted to see a poetic justice in 
the fact that in Italy Browning's wife is buried. 

When once his Muse had found that sunny land, she 
rarely left it. The scenes of his greatest works are laid 
there, his masterpiece, ' The Ring and the Book,' 
' Luria,' ' Pippa Passes,' his finest idyl or mask (to give 
it a name), besides a host of lyrics and other pieces. Italy 
is the studio of Browning's art. 

We have seen how Browning took up monologue, as 
Hamlet takes a bunch of rapiers, tests one or two forms, 
sees imperfections in them, and rejects them. At last we 
saw him grasp the particular form that was best suited to 
his genius. In ' The Ring and the Book ' he found the 
broadest scope for his thought, and a form adapted to 
his nature. Let us close our study of the development of 
his art with a brief examination of his masterpiece. 

' The Ring and the Book ' is a poem in blank verse of 
a little over twenty thousand lines, and consists of twelve 
parts. In the first part the plot is told by the poet, and 
the incident that brought the story to his knowledge. A 


manuscript volume of law briefs, and letters picked up at 
a book-stall in Florence, is the " book " of the title. The 
" ring " is a fancy of the poet's. When an Etruscan 
jeweller wished to make a ring of the purest possible gold, 
he mixed the precious metal with an alloy. The substance 
is then " a manageable mass." After he has formed and 
cut the ring to his wish, he removes with an acid the 

self-sufficient now, the shape remains, 
The rondure brave, the lilied loveliness, 
Gold as it was, is, shall be ever more ; 
Prime nature with an added artistry 
No carat lost, and you have gained a ring. 

The poet compares himself to the goldsmith; all the 
fancy and " artistry " of the verse to the serviceable alloy 
which will evaporate when once the story, pure gold, is 
fixed in the reader's mind. Each of the eleven remaining 
books, except the last, is given up to an actor in the 
events narrated, who rehearses the whole story from the 
side of his personal experience. 

At Rome, on Christmas night, in 1697, a horrible 
murder was committed. ' The Ring and the Book ' is a 
history of the trial. 

An old couple of some property, but of no social impor- 
tance, give their daughter, Pompilia, a girl of thirteen, to 
Count Guido Franceschini. The Count, for his part, sup- 
plied an ancient name and a ruined fortune. He had 
spent his life in the household of a cardinal, and at fifty 
discovers that he is still on the bottom round of the ladder 
to success. The parents of Pompilia, Pietro and Violante, 
go with their daughter to the estate of Guido in Arezzo, 
for he is now master of their property. Life there is soon 
made intolerable for the old people, and they return to 
Rome. Once home they spread the report that Pompilia 
is not their daughter, but a child from the dregs of the 
city. The story is terrible but true. Violante, to please 


her husband, and to secure the descent of some property, 
had pretended to give birth to a child that in fact she 
had received from a brother. Pietro had been as much 
deceived as his neighbors. A lawsuit followed the dis- 
closure, in which the old people try to recover Pompilia's 
dowry. The poor child, left to the mercy of the Count, 
has a miserable existence. When Guido sees the aversion 
which Pompilia has for him, he hates her, and would 
willingly get rid of her, if he could do it without losing 
the dowry. After four years of torture, she can endure 
her position no longer, and to save her own soul as well as 
the life of a child soon to be born, she flies to Rome with 
a young Canon, Giuseppe Caponsacchi. They are over- 
taken on the way by Guido, and are placed in custody. 
A trial of the case relegated the priest to an out-of-the- 
way village, sent Pompilia into the Convent for Penitents, 
and allowed the Count to return to Arezzo. After a time 
Pompilia is permitted to dwell in the house of Pietro and 
Violante, who still love her, and there her son is born. 
On getting news of this, Guido takes four country lads, 
and plunges on to Rome, breaks in upon the family of his 
father-in-law and murders Pietro, Violante, and Pompilia. 
The murderers flee blindly from the city, but are found in 
their bloody clothes asleep in a barn, where they had 
flung themselves, overcome with fatigue. In spite of a 
multitude of wounds, Pompilia lives a few days, and tells 
the story of her life to a monk. The murderers are 
brought to trial, and from the court the case is sent up to 
the Pope, for it was supposed that inasmuch as the Count 
belonged to one of the lower orders of priesthood, and 
came from a distinguished family, the papal decision 
would release the prisoners. This hope, however, was 
disappointed: the five murderers were put to death. 

"A disgusting story from beginning to end," you will 
say. And truly the facts of the case have a disreputable 
look. " There is foul sin enough in the atmosphere of 


Pompilia's birthplace. There is added the trick of Violante 
by which she deceives her husband. Next you heap up a 
mercenary marriage, an innocent child of thirteen is 
forced to marry a brute of fifty ; the flight of a wife in 
company with a priest; then the murder of three people, 
and the execution of five men. One would rather pass, 
holding his breath, such a festering heap ; but you ask me 
to take it into my system under the name of poetry." A 
reader inclined to argue in such a fashion could make out 
a strong case against Browning. But when you look at 
the facts, you will see that within their limits can be 
naturally discussed most of the questions that interest 
modern society. In that possibility lay the value of the 
subject to Browning. 

* The Ring and the Book ' is a work of art of beautiful 
design which holds not only wise thoughts about life, and 
a great play of fancy, but a new creation to take place 
among the immortals, Desdemona, Ophelia, and their 
sisters. We can imagine Browning's great poem has this 
inscription To Pompilia. 

Although Browning has let so many men and women 
speak in his verse, we feel acquainted with few of them. 
We smile, perhaps, as we think of Bishop Blougram with 
his cut and dried views of his office and his stout argu- 
mentative armour; he is, indeed, real to us. Fra Lippo 
Lippi is pretty distinct, with the watchmen " fiddling " at 
his throat, and Pippa, too, with her song influencing so 
many lives as she passes along. Lucullus would approve 
the few and select guests at a symposium of Browning's 
creations. Perhaps the list could be enlarged. Even a 
dinner-party after Byron's taste might be arranged "in 
number equal to the Muses ; " but no immortal like 
Hamlet or Lear among the number, unless we ask Pompilia. 
Many of Browning's men and women are abstractions, 
their names stand merely for ideas ; but Pompilia is real. 
As Guide's hooked dagger proved, she is flesh and blood. 


Springing up out of the mud, and resting upon dark 
waters, she is indeed "lilied loveliness." She grew up 
more a flower than a human being. No one taught her 
anything. When her husband in his villainy showed the 
court letters full of warm love which he said she had 
written to Capcnsacchi, she could simply say that she 
knew neither how to read nor how to write. She is not 
like the girls Roman art students paint, blank-looking 
peasants with no soul in their faces. Pompilia is a 
"woman -child," who on her death-bed could give right 
answers to most of the questions that make life perplexing. 

Marriage-making for the earth, 
With gold so much, birth, power, repute so much, 
Or beauty, youth so much, in lack of these ! 
Be as the angels rather, who, apart 
Know themselves into one, are found at length 
Married, but marry never, no, nor give 
In marriage ; they are man and wife at once 
When the true time is : here we have to wait. 

Hear her talking to Caponsacchi, the young Canon, as 
they are whirled along in a carriage towards Rome. 

Tell me, are men unhappy, in some kind 
Of mere unhappiness at being men, 
As women suffer, being womanish ? 

It hurts us if a baby hides its face 
Or child strikes at us punily, 

And strength may have its drawback, weakness "scapes. 

If a soul meets nobly the experiences of life, it will 
develop into loveliness without the aid of knowledge or 
"the humanities;" at least such is the poet's thought as 
represented in Pompilia. 

It was not given Pompilia to know much, 

Speak much, to write a book, to move mankind, 

Be memorised by who records my time. 

Yet if in purity and patience, if 

In faith held fast despite the plucking fiend 


. If in right returned 
For wrong, most pardon for worst injury, 
If there be any virtue, any praise, 

Then will this woman-child have proved who knows ? 
Just the one prize vouchsafed unworthy me, 
Seven years a gardener of the untoward ground 
I till. ' 

So speaks the Pope. 

Caponsacchi, Pompilia's deliverer, stands before us like 
another Theseus. We admire him, and see the progress 
he made in understanding life through the strange, sad 
part he played. Yet in a way he is a special study of a 
young Italian priest of the seventeenth century. He 
appreciates Poinpilia ; that is his greatest recommendation. 
His feeling for her is reverence like that he has for the 
Holy Virgin in the chancel of his cathedral. 

Yon know this is not love, Sirs, it is faith, 
The feeling that there 's God, he reigns and rules 
Out of this low world ; that is all ; no harm ! 

He is brave, he is pure; but as a poetic creature he 
lacks the charm that Pompilia has for us. He learned 
that God is served not alone by administering the offices 
of the church, by writing verses for a pagan bishop, or by 
keeping his services to his fellows within conventional 
limits. He discovered he served God more truly when he 
had the courage to see that Pompilia needed his aid, and 
when he did not withhold his hand. 

As for Count Guido, he is a thorough villain, yet with 
so good an excuse for himself that when he described to 
the court his views of life, some of the judges must have 
shifted uneasily in their chairs at seeing how like were 
their own ideas to those of a murderer. For the rub was 
that Guido defended himself by syllogisms, the premises 
of which were every-day maxims in society. There was 
no doubt about the soundness of the premises, but the 
conclusions drawn from them were altogether untrust- 


" Honor is a thing of value, for if I have it any one 
connected with me is benefited." "Certainly," replied 
the world, " all hereditary nobility, all patrician power is 
founded upon that fact." "Then if I share this valuable 
possession with somebody, and for value received he gives 
into my hands money, is there anything wrong in the 
transaction?" The judges find difficulty in answering, 
for when Guido married Pompilia he has done that very 
thing. Roman law, it appears, would have justified Guido 
in killing Pompilia, had he done the deed when, after 
warm pursuit, he overtook and confronted the runaways. 
Guido laughs at such discrimination, and in a step or two 
leads his judges to a point where logically they must 
admit his right to kill his wife when he did. Admit that 
the end justifies the means, then listen to Guido. 

I don't hear much of harm that Malchus did 
After the incident of the ear, my lords ! 
Saint Peter took the efficacious way; 
Malchus was sore but silenced for his life : 
He did not hang himself i' the Potter's Field 
Like Judas, who was trusted with the bag 
And treated to sops after he proved a thief. 

" I may punish a disobedient servant, you say ; when does 
the instrument of punishment cease to be allowable, a 
switch, a stick, a pitch-fork, a dagger, where should I 
have stopped ? " Upon the pages of the poem Guido seems 
too much given to self-analysis for a villain in real life ; 
but when we have closed the book, we find him shaping 
himself very distinctly in our minds, and living by his own 
natural rights as a rascal, like lago. 

Although the plot of 'The Ring and the Book' is a 
curious one, I think we can see the reason Browning 
approved of it. From some central position he wished to 
look upon life and tell the world what he saw, and for 
this purpose he took a seat at a trial such as we have 
described, held in Rome. A trial in any court brings all 


sorts of odd intelligence to light. It ransacks family 
history for generations back ; it does not tolerate privacy. 
In court the philosopher can study phases of character and 
strange sides of life to his heart's content. From a seat 
by his friend the judge he can look down upon all condi- 
tions of life, all social questions, and peer into the dark 
nooks and corners of the world. 

Such are some of the advantages Browning secured by 
weaving his poem about a great trial. The bare facts of 
the case would retain their ugly look in a novel or in a 
play: prose would not exalt them sufficiently; the swift 
action of drama would not afford them enough covering. 
Yet a plot like this, that ranges from a harlot to a Pope, 
is a necessity, if Browning is to have full scope for his 
powers. The four rustics who had a hand in the murder 
offer a study in primitive human nature. They were not 
vicious; they were merely ruddy, human animals. "A 
goat to kill or a man, what is the difference?" they might 
ask. We hear Browning say, "Such were the much 
vaunted denizens of the Golden Age." From innocent 
brutishness to the spirituality of Pompilia is a range that 
embraces all human existence. Hence the choice of the 
plot. A bundle of cases in ethics and theology is taken to 
what might be called the Supreme Court in such matters. 
The Pope, who is made to figure as the final judge of the 
questions, is painted in colours that it is a pity more of the 
successors of St. Peter have not deserved. 

is as precise within limits as that 

of the drama, the epic, or lyric. It is not merely eight or 
ten different ways of telling the same story. The con- 
struction is carefully planned, the mould is unique. A 
monologue when talked into the air, like the " Mad-House 
Cells," could be censured on the ground that it was un- 
natural. It is true that people do mutter, do soliloquise, 
and doubtless so superior a company as Browning's 
dramatis personce might offer the same good excuse as the 


man in the anecdote. When asked why he soliloquised 
so much, he replied, " Because I like to converse with~a 
sensible person." Andrea del Sarto is a good subject for 
monologue, as he talks to Lucrezia; so is Fra Lippo 
Lippi arguing with the watchmen~~who have caught him 
in a frolic. But even a monologue addressed to some one 
named in the poem becomes unnatural when it takes on 
the length of 'Bishop Blougram's Apology.' That worthy 
ecclesiastic, notwithstanding his good table, would hardly 
get many men to sit through more than one such harangue. 
In fact, the bishop's table-companion in the present case 
flees immediately to the uttermost parts of the world. A 
man either could not talk so uninterruptedly, or he would 
not be permitted to. In ' The Ring and the Book ' many 
of the features we object to in the earlier monologue have 
disappeared. Pompilia's confession to the Augustinian is 
a natural monologue ; so is a lawyer's plea, the statement 
of a witness (if he is bold and fortunate), a story that one 
has been asked to tell, a letter, and a sermon, all are 
natural monologues. These are what the separate parts of 
the poem contain, except the introduction in part one, and 
the section called The Pope. Each person tells his story 
without interruption, Pompilia to the monk, Guido and 
Caponsacchi to the judges, the lawyers rehearse their 

There is something else in 'The Ring and the Book* 
that reminds one of Greek dramas. The two great 
choruses, Half Rome, The Other Half Rome, although 
confined to their sections in the first part of the poem, 
ring out the changes of the popular mind like Strophe and 

Apart from the arrangement of the main lines of the 
poem there is a studied effect produced by the choice of 
characters, and the particular parts of the twelve in which 
they shall appear. The lawyer, Hyacinthus de Archangelis, 
is the comedian of the piece, and like Shakespeare's fool, 


he relieves for a little our oppressed wits, and creates an 
appetite for serious parts. His brother lawyer we might 
call the satirist of the poem. Johannes-Baptiste Bottenus 
is not satirical in his words, nor is Hyacinthus consciously 
a humourist; but after the reader has been carried away by 
Pompilia's woes, he is suddenly brought face to face with 
the selfishness of Johannes and the good-nature of Hya- 
cinthus; the effect is equal to keen satire and broad 
comedy. These lawyers look at the whole subject, suf- 
fering, sin, murder, trial, and all, as something sent in 
the providence of God to help their fame a little, or to 
give their children an extra allowance of bread and 

We have now come to the end of our rapid study of 
Browning's use of monologue. If there were time, it 
would be interesting to examine his art in the details of 
technique. The bold, vivid portraits he dashes off in a 
line or two should claim our attention; his frequent use 
of alliteration and the other amenities of style which he is 
thought to care little about; the wonderful imagery by 
which he helps us understand the subtle moods of the 
souls should be examined. In his early poems similes 
stood out from the body of the verse, as a button painted 
by Meissonier would stand out on the blouse of one of 
Millet's peasants; in the later poems the tone of the 
whole has been raised to the brilliancy of the early figures. 
But these minute studies hardly concern us, who have been 
engaged upon the monologue as a whole. 

The art of Browning in monologue was developed, it 
would seem, as a consequence of moral qualities in him- 
self and his time. He shared the serious questions of his 
generation, and desired to teach his fellows truths of the 
spirit. He chose a poetic form, monologue, because that 
form permitted a combination of action and description, 
where his personal interpretation of the story might at any 
time intrude itself. This method led naturally to a cold, 


metaphysical, and lifeless treatment of his subjects, which 
were little more than abstractions, until the discovery of 
Italy as a rich storehouse of personages and incidents 
fortunately rescued him, and gave his themes warmth and 
motion. Browning is never truly a dramatic poet, one 
who lets life act itself freely before his readers. He muses 
upon life in very vigorous speech, to be sure, but still in 
terms of the intellectual rather than in terms of action. 
He is analytical, searching the consciousness of his char- 
acters for motives, moods, and spiritual processes, and 
these he expounds with all the virile brilliancy of his 
strong nature and the egoism of the monologue. 

One who does not care to be numbered among the 
prophets may still believe that Browning will always be 
considered the master of this species of verse. A prophecy 
that goes farther than this must take a hint from Delphic 
oracles, and not be too hard and fast in its phraseology. 
Certainly the problems of life that Browning discusses come 
to every thoughtful man; but whether succeeding ages 
will have the time or the taste to go to such massive 
poems for the answers, the future alone can tell. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, March 25, 1890.] 

ABOUT the year 1520, Magellan, in that voyage of explo- 
ration which first circumnavigated the globe, made a land- 
ing on the southernmost part of the new-found continent. 
A chronicler of the expedition relates that the captain by 
a stratagem had shackled two gigantic Patagonians. 

" When they saw how they were deceived they roared like 
bulls, and cried upon their great devil, Setebos. They say that 
when any of them die, there appear ten or twelve devils, leaping 
and dancing about the bodies of the dead, and seeming to have 
their own bodies painted with divers colours ; and that among 
them there is one seen bigger than the others who maketh great 
mirth and rejoicing. The great devil they call Setebos." * 
(' Navigation! e Viaggi,' Venezia, 1554.) 

In writing 'The Tempest,' about fifty years after this 
chronicle was printed, Shakespeare betrays his knowledge 
of. it by putting the phrase, " My dam's god, Setebos," into 
the mouth of the " monster," half human and half devil, 
whom Prospero finds on the island and tames into a ser- 
vant and a drudge, teaching him language, which Caliban 
enjoys chiefly because it enables him to curse. 

On two contrasted characters in ' The Tempest,' Dowden 
makes this comment : 

" Ariel [is] an unbodied joy, too much a creature of light and 
air to know human affection or human sorrow ; Caliban (the name 

1 It should be borne in mind that Catholic writers apply the term "devil" to all 
pagan deities. 


formed from cannibal) stands at the other extreme, with all the 
elements in him appetites, intellect, even imagination out 
of which man emerges into civilisation, but with a moral nature 
that is still gross and malignant." 

In Caliban the development of intelligence without con- 
science produces quick-sighted animal sense and cunning ; 
and being also without reverence or sympathy, his contact 
with a superior produces cowardice, envy, and hate. But 
some deep-lying instinct of a more spiritual sort makes all 
the faculties quiver with superstitious dread, and stirs this 
bestial brother of us all with a vague sense of mysterious 
powers at work in all things around him. His awe in 
Prospero's presence is like the restraint- which many ani- 
mals feel in the presence of man : 

J must obey : his art is of such power, 
It would control my dam's god, Setebos, 
And make a vassal of him. 

We have here the germ of Browning's Caliban. Rather 
let us say that Browning's genius seizes upon this creation 
of Shakespeare to use it as a lay-figure on which to hang 
the drapery of a subtle philosophy ; or perhaps to inline 
upon Shakespeare's outline the workings of a rudimentary 
spiritual intelligence, looking out upon the universe 
through animal eyes, eyes wonderfully clear and sharp, 
as all animal eyes are, for their purpose, but no better 
than crinkled glass for transmitting the light of the finer 

From several allusions in the poem, I suspect Browning 
had followed up the Patagonian clue somewhat farther 
than the Magellan chronicle, as a few facts gathered from 
any encyclopedia may show. For example : (1) The natives 
are much given to drinking, and make an intoxicating 
liquor from the wild berries of their woods. (2) Their 
superstition makes much of the sun and moon, but takes no 
account of the stars. (3) They explain all natural phe- 


nomena as if caused by their own conduct ; .and when a 
tempest arises, they are filled with terror, crouch together 
in their huts, and do not stir till it is over. (4) " The 
Patagonian never eats or drinks without turning to the sun, 
and thro wing, down before him a few scraps of meat or a 
few drops of water, and uttering an invocation," generally 
like this : " O Father, great Man, King of the World ! 
give me favour, dear friend, day by day, good food, good 
drink, good sleep. I am poor myself. Are you hungry ? 
Here is a poor scrap ; eat if you wish." 

But researches among the lower tribes of mankind bring 
out the same thing in substance. They all, like children, 
interpret the order of the world by their own limitations, 
and project their own image upon the sky and imagine it 
to be a likeness of God. To the earliest edition of this 
poem, Browning prefixed the words which a Hebrew 
psalmist attributes to Jehovah : " Thou thoughtest that I 
was altogether such an one as thyself." But the secondary 
title of the poem gives the key equally well, ' Natural 
Theology upon the Island.'- Caliban's insulation is more 
than geographical. He is shut off from all instruction ex- 
cept the impact of dumb nature upon his senses ; he has 
no idea of spiritual relationship ; no kinship with other 
intelligences ; no capacity or opportunity for vital sym- 
pathy; no human schooling for justice, kindness, truth, 
duty or beauty, any more than the creatures that crawl or 
fly or swim around him. The low tone of his filial senti- 
ment is hinted by his calling \ the horrid old Sycorax his 
" dam " and not his mother. Browning still further em- 
phasises this low-downness by making him speak of him- 
self nearly always in the third person, as children do when 
they first begin to talk. 

The senses report to us external facts or appearances ; 
they do not report meanings. The beginnings of reflection 
are therefore necessarily crude : the forms of sense-impres- 
sion still dominating thought, even after instruction or 


experience has set up a series of internal movements 
toward rationality. Hence I have heard a small boy ask, 
" Can God walk on the plastering like a fly ? " When the 
mother tells the very little girl that God is everywhere, the 
question comes like a shot, " Is he in the sugar-bowl ? " 
"Yes," whereupon the child claps on the cover and ex- 
claims in innocent glee, " Then I 've got him." This is 
pure Calibanism minus grown-up malignity. 

While Prospero and Miranda take their noonday siesta, 
supposing that Caliban drudges at his task, this creature, 
living coarsely in his senses, sprawls swinishly in a pit of 
mire, kicks the slush with both feet, chuckles as his skin 
is tickled by the crawling vermin, and catches and crunches 
the fruit that drops within reach. Then comes a fine 
psychological touch. At sight of the sunlight on the 
water a picture framed by the mouth of his cave Cali- 
ban becomes aware of a larger . world, and drops .or rises 
into free-thinking, after his own fashion. Channing tells 
us that, in his boyhood, as he walked on the shore of Nar- 
ragansett Bay, the sight of the grandeur around him made 
him aware of the powers within him. Let us do Caliban 
the justice to say that his mind likewise, what there is of 
it, responds, in its own poor way, to the touch of nature. 
Light shines into his mind, as into the cave where he lies; 
and with the same effect, it sets the shadows dancing. 
Then his " rank tongue blossoms into speech," and he 

Talks to his own self, howejer he please, 
Touching that other, whom his dam called God. 

Another touch : now, " Talk is safer than in winter-time." 
God seems absent because Caliban feels comfortable. By 
and bye, when cold pinches and his bones ache, that will 
be to him a sign of the Real Presence, and he will cower 
and hold his tongue. 

Now the' soliloquy begins : 

Setebos, Setehos, and Setebos! 

'Thinketh, He dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon. 


"Why so, more \ than in the sunshine ? The weirdness of 
moonlight, the chill of the night air and the vagueness of 
all forms have always been suggestive of mystery; and 
among some ancient people the worship of the moon pre- 
ceded the worship of the sun. At the same time, the 
moon, with its frequent changes, seemed like the capri- 
cious friendship of a Deity not understood, half trusted, 
half distrusted. ' So He ! " 

Next comes in the Patagonian limitation. Setebos 
made moon and sun, but "the stars came otherwise." 
His realm includes this portion of space, air, earth, island 
and sea, 'nothing more. The world of Setebos must 
not be much larger than Caliban's world. But why did 
Setebos make anything ? Well, he was restless, wanted 
occupation and wanted to think of something beside his 
own discomfort ; wanted something to vent his force upon, 
his pleasure now, and now his spite, envy, mockery. 
Couldn't make an equal, just as he couldn't make him- 
self. But of course he would make something worth his 
while ; something good enough for him to admire and be 
proud of, and big enough to tease ; something strong 
enough to provoke and resist him ; in short, something to 
excite him, just as Caliban excites himself by a pungent 
tipple that goes to his head!. ' 

Then Caliban considers how he would feel and act, if > 
he could make a living creature that would be wholly in 
his power ; say a bird ; a rather fine bird, that he would be 
fond and proud of, and could fool with, and treat as he 
pleased. So He ! " 

At this point, Caliban seems to come in sight of moral 
distinctions ; at least Browning does ! But these are 
quickly waved aside, so far as Setebos is concerned. 

Thinketh, such shows nor right nor wrong in Him, 
Nor kind, nor cruel ; He is strong and Lord. 

Of course! Caliban reasons from the use he makes of 
power over creatures inferior to himself. 


'Am strong myself compared to yonder crabs 
That march now from the mountain to the sea ; 
'Let twenty pass, and stone the twenty -first, 
Loving not, hating not, just choosing so. 

So He. 

Well then, 'supposeth He is good i' the main, 
Placable if His mind and ways were guessed. 

Tliis is fine satire, a slash at the theological speculations 
which represent God as arbitrary, yet claim that He is 
benevolent all the same ! Mrs. Stowe once told Starr 
King that she had been hearing a sermon which painted 
God as a devil, and added what was far worse, that 
this devil loved us ! 

But then rises a protest. Such a Being, after all, 
knows this ; and it explains His dislike. If the pipe I 
blow through should boast that it is necessary to me, 
because it can make the sound I cannot make with my 
mouth alone, would I not smash it with my foot? "So 
He ! " Setebos, like Caliban, is mindful of His own glory, 
and punishes His creatures if they take airs in His 

But Browning could not accomplish the whole purpose 
of this poem merely .by descending into the low conscious- 
ness of this beastrman ; he must also let Caliban look 
through the poet's eyes and deliver judgment upon some 
of the subtlest speculations of the ages. Why is Setebos 
" rough, cold and ill at ease ? " 

Aha, that is a question ! Ask, for that, 
What knows, the something over Setebos 
That made Him, or He, may be, found and fought, 
Worsted, drove off and did to nothing, perchance. 

Is this a reflection of Jupiter's dethronement of Saturn, 
or of the expulsion of one religious system by another? 
But both Hindoo and Persian theologies recognise back 
of all the active deities back of creative Brahma and 


Ormuzd an Eternal One as serene and as inert as space 
itself. There may be "something over Setebos." 

There may be something quiet o'er His head, 
Out of His reach, that feels nor/joy nor grief, 
Since both derive from weakness in some way. 
I joy because the quails come ; would not joy 
Could I bring quails here when I have a mind : 
This Quiet, all it hath a mind to, doth. 

Browning goes very far in thus making even Caliban feel 
blindly after a Power that he can respect. 

But if there be a far-away god of the star-region, 
mightier far than Setebos, let Him stay there : it might 
be so much the worse if He came this way. Enough for 
Caliban that he must reckon with this one, who because 
He cannot "soar to what is quiet and hath happy life," 
wreaks His power on such a poor world as He can make 
and manage. 

After all, Setebos in his uneasiness is only trying to ape 
the Greater One, as Caliban recalls how he has tried to 
ape Prospero by making a book out of leaves, by dressing 
up in a magic robe made of " the eyed skin of a supple 
oncelot," and by training 

A four-legged serpent, he makes cower and couch, 
Now snarl, now hold its breath and mind his eye, 
And saith she is Miranda and my wife : 
'Keeps for his Ariel a tall pouch-bill crane 
He bids go wade for fish and straight disgorge ; 
Also a sea-beast, lumpish, which he snared, 
Blinded the eyes of, and brought somewhat tame, 
And split its toe-webs, and now pens the drudge 
In a hole o' the rock and calls him Caliban ; 
A bitter heart that bides its time and bites. 
. 'Plays thus at being Prosper in a way, 
Taketh his mirth with make-believes : so He. 

Caliban's dam had held that the Quiet made all things ; 
and that Setebos only came in to make trouble. This 
agrees with the Patagonian conception of Setebos as head 
devil; or rather with the chronicler's version thereof. 


But Caliban " holds not so." The defects of things imply 
either a defective creator or a spiteful motive. "Who 
made tilings weak meant weakness He might vex."- But 
there are kind and friendly aspects: how explain? If 
Setebos has any liking for things, it must be because 
they profit him, serve him a turn, somehow. Caliban 
and his blinded beast love what does them good; Setebos 
merely sees better, and so can hate or love just as he likes. 
His love is as heartless as his hate. 

And if Setebos is active, it is not because He cares for 
any of the creatures, but because He wants to while away 
the time and to work off His surplus energy, just as Cali- 
ban himself piles up turf and stones and drives stakes 
and crowns the whole with a sloth's skull. 

No use at all i' the work, for work's sole sake ; 
'Shall some day knock it down again : so He ! 

This may seem a light touch ; but to my mind its sug- 
gestiveness is tremendous. Conceive of this whole uni- 
verse earth, solar system, starry heavens and galaxies 
of suns and worlds all launched into existence to run 
like clock-work for no matter what millions or quadrillions 
of ages, but finally to run down ; every sun to spend its 
heat, every earth to grow dark and cold, every life to go 
out like an extinct spark, and nowhere any permanent 
spiritual product fro HIA .wVirQft mitlay^of wisdom and 
%iQwer in creation : what then is the summing up of history 
but this that the Creator, like an infinite Setebos or 
Caliban, " falls to make something," with " no use at all 
i' the work," and ends all by knocking it down again. 
Even to our poor reason, what adequate vindication can 
there be of the Cosmos unless it be indeed what our higher 
faith makes it, a nursery, a school, and a temple for im- 
mortal children of Light and Love ? 

But Caliban is not without reasons for thinking of Sete- 
bos with dread. Has n't a hurricane destroyed his harvest, 
just as it was coming to maturity? Hasn't a single tidal 


wave " licked flat " six weeks' labour done to fence off the 
invading turtles ? Has n't a burning stone been shot down 
out of the sky at the very spot where a half hour before 
he had lain down for a nap ? 

He hath a spite against me, that I know, 
Just as He favours Prosper, who knows why ? 

These lines recall the story told me by an army chaplain 
whose regiment had seen service in Louisiana. One day 
the chaplain heard his coloured servant humming a ditty : 

De big bee set on de fence, 

De little bee make all de honey ; 
De black man do all de work, 

De wite man hab all de money. 

"Luke," asked the chaplain, "Why do you suppose the 
Lord gave the white man the best chances?" "Well, 
massa, I 'se thought a heap o' dat ar ; and I 'se made up 
my mine dat de Lord he done it jes' out o' meanness.'" 
" Tut, tut, Luke ! " said the chaplain, reprovingly ; " you 
wouldn't talk that way about the good Lord." "Well, 
massa, I know'd you 'd say dat ar ; but I 'se made up my 
mine dat de Lord he's a wite man hisself; and he seed 
dat de wite f okses is like hisself and so he done gone and 
gin 'em de bestest o' everything." "He hath a spite 
against me; he favours Prosper." 

But Caliban next attacks the question how he may get 
on the right side of Setebos, as Prosper does. No easy 
matter; for what pleases in one mood may irritate in 
another. Judging Setebos by himself, he concludes that 
the god would be just as likely to resent as to approve 
an act done on purpose to please him ; for he would let 
his creatures know that he would n't be pleased by com- 
pulsion of any act of theirs. 

Well, then, is there no way out of it? None, unless 
Setebos should die, or take a notion to make another world, 
and sc forget this ; or outgrow his present self and so rise 
into the Quiet. 


'Conceiveth all things will continue thus, 
And we shall have to live in fear of Him 
So long as He lives, keeps His strength : no change, 
If He have done His best, make no new world 
To please Him more, so leave off watching this, 
If He surprise not even the Quiet's self 
Some strange day, or, suppose, grow into it 
As grubs grow butterflies : else, h'ere are we, 
And there is He, and nowhere help at all. 

Yes, there 's another way out. Caliban himself may die ; 
and he is too much of a Sadducee to hold his dam's 
faith that after death Setebos will plague his enemies and 
feast his friends. No, the best and worst he can do is to 
keep us alive and torment us as long as possible. 

Meanwhile, the best way to escape His ire 
Is, not to seem too happy. 

Another keen thrust at a theory of life which 'Browning 
delights to impale. In how many passages has he identi- 
fied life itself with joy, and joy with the Love that sends 
it ! So exclaims Lessing : " What can please the Creator 
more than a happy creature ! " Yet we sometimes hear a 
sombre intimation that our blessings are taken away lest 
we enjoy them too much ; that our children are removed 
because parental love needs to be checked. And in ' Max- 
ims and Examples of the Saints ' I have read that there 
is peculiar virtue in eating unpalatable food and in subject- 
ing the body to painful inflictions. Yet thousands of us 
have smiled at the pious old lady who walked to church 
along the muddy street instead of taking the clean side- 
walk, "because," as she said, "one cannot do too much 
for the Lord." 

So Caliban thinks to keep on the right side of Setebos 
by feigning misery, and to flatter his superior by showing 

Wherefore he mainly dances on dark nights, 
Moans in the sun, gets under holes to laugh, 
And never speaks his mind save housed as now: 
Outside, 'groans, curses. If He caught me here, 


O'erheard this speech, and asked " What chucklest at ? " 

'Would, to appease Him, cut a finger off, 

Or of my three kid yearlings buru the best, 

Or lee the toothsome apples rot on tree, 

Or push my tatne beast for the ore to taste : 

While myself lit a fire, and made a song 

And sung it, " What I hate be consecrate 

" To celebrate Thee and Thy state ; no mate 

"For Thee; what see for envy in poor me ? " 

This is no extravagance of Browning's. It would be 
ludicrous if it were not tragically true to the religious 
history of a large part of mankind, who have thought to 
avert divine wrath, natter divine vanity and win divine 
favour by striking humiliating attitudes and by a thousand 
forms of sacrifice, self -mutilation and self-torture. " What 
I [affect to] hate be consecrate." Is it not a curious 
testimony of language that the Greek verb anathematise 

I means both to curse and to devote to the gods? 

*"""* But now for the denoilment. The last twelve lines 

contain the whole poem ; and for compressed explosive 

^dramatic and psychologic force they are, so far asl know, 

rarely equalled in the world's literature. Just as Caliban's 

treasonable soliloquy culminates in the comfortable hope 

that Setebos may some day " grow decrepit, doze and doze, 

as good as die," the tropical thunder-storm, with its at- 

' tendant hurricane and cloud of sand, bursts on him like 

a day of judgment and a trump of doom: 

What, what ? A curtain o'er the world at once ! 

Crickets stop hissing ; not a bird or. yes, 

There scuds His raven, that hath told Him all ! 

It was fool's play, this prattling: ! Ha ! The wind 

Shoulders the pillared dnst, death's house o' the move, 

And fast invading fires begin ! White blaze 

A tree's head snaps and there, there, there, there, there, 

His thunder follows ! Fool to gibe at Him ! 

Lo ! 'Lieth flat and loveth Setebos ! 

'Maketh his teeth meet through his upper lip, 

Will let those quails fly, will not eat this month 

One little mess of whelks, so he may 'scape ! 


Even were I competent to discuss Browning's technique, 
I should not wish to do so now. I have been more con- 
cerned to grasp and follow the sense of this poem than 
to note its literary construction, its felicity and force 
of diction, its occasional approach to the grotesque, or 
even its masterly and marvellously picturesque presenta- 
tion of an obscure and difficult theme. To dwell chiefly 
on an author's style, and to study his verbal quality and 
the joiner work of his sentences, after the way of merely 
literary criticism, or even to applaud the march and music 
of his verse, is to put manner before matter, and so to fall 
into dilettantism. And a passionate, undiscriminating 
admiration of an author may operate to muzzle a great 
voice which speaks because it has somewhat to say. 

What has Browning to say in this particular utterance ? 
A great deal, I think. Perhaps in justice to him and to 
our poor relation, Caliban, we should construe this poem 
as if it were a fragment ; that is, we should read it in the 
light of what the author has said otherwheres. Take this 
from ' Christmas Eve.' 

Whom do you count the worst man upon earth ? 
Be sure, he knows, in his conscience, more 
Of what right is, than arrives at birth 
In the best man's acts that we bow before. 

In the same poem he had already said : 

The truth in God's breast 
Lies trace for trace upon ours impressed : 
Though He is so bright and we so dim, 
We are made in his image to witness him. 

This is a favourite conception of the philosophers, that 
man is a microcosm an epitome of the universe ; or as 
Emerson poetically puts it, " God hid the whole world in 
thy breast." But man the infant, or the savage, the un- 
developed man, cannot read what is written in his own 
nature till light enters ; and this kind of light comes not 
from staring at sun and moon, it is a " light that never 


was on sea or land." It comes from the quickening of his 
own deeper faculties. 

Now take this passage from ' Paracelsus ' : 

Truth is within ourselves ; it takes no rise 
From outward things, whate'er you may believe. 
There is an inmost centre in us all, 
Where truth abides in fulness; and around, 
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in, 
This perfect, clear perception which is truth. 
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh 
Blinds it, and makes all error. 

Now we see what ails poor Caliban. He too is God's 
creature, with a living soul made in the divine image " to 
witness Him ; " and in Caliban, as surely as in an arch- 
angel, "there is an inmost centre where truth abides in 
fulness;" but "wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it 
in," " a baffling and perverting carnal mesh " which 
"makes all error." 

And in his case, the flesh wall is very dense ; his soul 
is buried alive, and slumbers under heavy opaque ances- 
tral coverings. 

But let Paracelsus finish his remark, which has been 
interrupted by Caliban, or by me. 


Kather consists in opening out a way 
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape, 
Than in effecting entry for a light 
Supposed to be without. Watch narrowly 
The demonstration of a truth, its birth, 
And you trace back the effluence to its spring 
And source within us ; where broods radiance vast, 
To be elicited ray by ray, as chance 
Shall favour. 

' Paracelsus,' which first appeared in 1835, does not give 
us the whole of Browning's matured thought. He would 
not have said in his later years that " chance " is the 
liberator of the " imprisoned splendour." Rather he would 
say that the liberation comes from contact with a living 


and luminous personality, the Life that is awake rous- 
ing the life that is asleep. This gives us Browning's 
conception of the Christ the God-inan, whose personality 
is duplicated in all men and women in whom the same 
light shines, and shines not for themselves alone. 

Caliban's insulation from all the humanising influences 
of sympathy and instruction operates like imprisonment 
for life. We might draw from such a monstrosity of 
arrested development a pathetic and powerful appeal or 
protest against all institutions, customs and doctrines that 
shut out individuals or masses from the helpfulness of light 
and love, and consign them to those " dark places " which 
like Caliban's mind, are " habitations of cruelty." 

But to the spirit once awake and enlightened- the flesh- 
life, or the sense-wall, is no longer a hindrance ; it becomes 
a help. " Thy whole body shall be full of light." This 
brings out the significance of the notable twelfth stanza 
of * Rabbi Ben Ezra ' : 

Let us not always say 

" Spite of this flesh to-day 
" I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole ! " 

As the bird wings and sings, 

Let us cry, " All good tilings 
" Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul ! " 

The manifestation of soul may be obstructed by the 
organism, just as the growth of a seed is obstructed by 
the soil in which it lies buried; bat, once the seed is 
reached by the warmth of the sun, the soil becomes its 
next best friend, since it gives foothold for roots and 
standing-ground and support for the rising stalk. So we. 

If it be true, as poet and philosopher agree, that man 
is an epitome of the universe, holding compacted in him- 
self a sample of its highest spiritual principles along with 
its material substances and natural forces, then there 
should be something in the universe to correspond to 
everything in man. But then only the higher things 


of man should be taken to correspond with the higher 
things of the universe, as his delicate eye, and not his 
coarse lime-built bones, responds to the light. He can only 
commune with the spiritual order through his spiritual 
faculties and sentiments. So long as these are dormant, 
or weak, or dimly lighted, there is no help for it, he will 
inhabit a moral cavern. Hence it is certain that the relig- 
ious ideas of barbarous and half-civilised people will also be 
barbarous and half-civilised, graded like their attainments 
in language, science, art, medicine and government. 

Three things I get directly from the poem. (1) It is 
a satire upon all who plant themselves upon the narrow 
island of individualism and think to reach completeness 
of character and culture without sharing the common 
life of the world. (2) It is a protest against the vagaries 
of the understanding, divorced from the deeper reason and 
the moral sense, against what Hiram Corson calls " phi- 
losophies excogitated by the insulated intellect." The 
attitude and animus of what may be called unspiritual 
thinking are as fatal to rationality as to noble aspiration. 
But (3) chiefly, I think, the poet means it as a satire upon 
all religious theories which construct a divinity out of the 
imperfections of humanity, instead of submitting humanity 
to be inspired and moulded by the perfections of divinity. 
Caliban gives now and then a sign that he has some faint 
ideas of kindness, love, and justice, as well as of power ; 
but these ideas, which ought alone to represent the 
Supreme Reality, are sullied, distorted, and confused by 
his own caprices of sensual impulse and wilfulness ; and 
these caprices, which give form and colour to his imagin- 
ings, he incorporates into his theory of Setebos, making 
Him altogether such an one as himself, instead of making 
Him a reflection of the best, and so a reprover and correc- 
tor of his worst. For it is the office of true religion to 
help us distinguish between the higher and lower elements 
of our nature ; and thus to develop and strengthen and 


enthrone those by subordinating these to their proper ' 
service. This gives us a religion in exact harmony with 
reason, or common sense, whereby we discriminate values, 
or varying grades of excellence and dignity, and are thus 
enabled to give the leadership and command of our life 
to its superior principle. 

Caliban, as you must have seen, is only one of our poor 
relations, and frightfully like us in some of his features. 
We Calibanise, then, when we make God " altogether " . 
like ourselves instead of making ourselves like Him, as 
He is revealed in the higher self. If either Caliban or 
we should really be destitute and incapable of anything 
better than blind and non-moral impulse, then there would 
be no growing point; he and we should dwell permanently 
and by necessity in innocent darkness, or on the purely 
animal plane. But our escape upward into light and 
higher life, our evolution Godward, seems provided for 
in the germs of reason and conscience, though these be 
buried in the grossness of our animal nature. In short, man 
is capable of looking beyond and above himself for an 
Ideal Perfection, because such Perfection is hinted in his 
own aspirations. He Calibanises when the light that is 
in him becomes darkness by the overspreading clouds of 
sense and sensuality. 

Unless above himself he can 
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man ! 

Channing says we should seek to " become what . we 
praise, by transcribing into our lives the perfections of 
God; by copying His wisdom, in the judicious pursuit 
of good ends ; His justice, in the discharge of all our 
obligations, and His benevolence in the diffusion of all 
possible happiness around us." We Calibanise when we 
invert this process by transcribing into the character of 
God our own defects and attributing to Him qualities 
inconsistent with either wisdom, justice, or love. 

We Calibanise when we impose our intellectual limita- 


tions upon the universe. At every stage of enlargement 
our view is limited ; but why must we mistake our own 
narrow horizon for the absolute boundary of truth ? 

And how about the dominant principle ? Caliban, sprawl- 
ing content in the summer mire, is he disguised beyond 
recognition when he is seen revelling, selfishly and sensu- 
ally, in elegant luxury, or given up to literary indulgence 

pampering the coward heart 
With feelings all too delicate for use ? 

Does not science smack of Calibanism when it exalts the 
testimony of sense concerning physical facts above the tes- 
timony of consciousness concerning internal experiences ; / 
or when it fumbles for the essence of man's being among/ 
molecular movements and the processes of physical life ? / 

And when we imagine that the universe is run chie^r, in 
our personal interest or in hostility to us, how much we 
must resemble the creature who takes his own capricious 
likes and dislikes for samples of the Cosmos ! When af- 
fairs go pleasantly, the god is in good humour. When 
any plan is upset, it is because the god has a spite against 
him. When the thunder breaks, his first in pulse is to 
dodge the bolt that is aimed at his particulai head. Not 
only in certain forms of religious literature ' nd in hj-mn 
or prayer, may we hear the Calibanic tone of self-felicita- 
tion or of whining, but in how many of 01 r daily moods 
we may detect some of the same colouring matter ! But 
as one after another our pleadings for speci J divine inter- 
^ positions give way before the larger conception of uniform 
.'causation, we fall in all our helplessness and need into 
the arms of a universal Providence, w^ich takes up all 
beings and all events, all facts and ail forces, all pro- 
cesses and all results, into the inclush e order of wisdom 
and goodness. 

When half-gods ?->, 
The gods arriv . 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, October 27, 1891.] 

THE comparative method in the study of literature leads 
us to seek for the same ideas and the same artistic 
methods in writers widely separated in time and space. 
^ he reader of Browning's love poetry must find in it many 
a reniiniscence of other poets, and he must now and then 
feel as L the age of chivalry had come back, with its fine 
and joyous sentiment. Love is not a mere passion tot 
Browning, nor is it simply an affection that draws together/ 
one man and woman. In his poetry it is an intuition, an 
ecstasy, a spiritual vision, an eternal ideal. 

Such a conception of love is not new with him ; it is 
found in some of the greatest writers of ancient and 
modern times alike, notably in Plato, Dante, and Petrarch. 
We can better understand what love was to Browning, 
or what he has made it in his poetry, if we glance at what 
these men have made it in their immortal works. We find 
in these men what is known as romantic love, taking its 
origin in Plato, brought to its highest expression in Dante 
and Petrarch, and revived in a modernised form by 
Browning. , 

Plato discusses love in the 'Symposium' and in the 
' Phfedrus,' and he touches upon it in one or two of his 
other dialogues. I/ the 'Symposium,' he says that there 
is an earthly and a heavenly love ; and it is the heavenly 
love which he describes in i he romantic spirit. We cannot 


forget that in his dialogues there often appears what is far 
other than a heavenly love ; but it is the dark shadow 
which rests over all Greek life, and separates it widely 
from that of modern times. The heavenly love is that 
which desires the beautiful and good, which desires them 
as an eternal possession, and which seeks ever to bring to 
creation children of the good, that shall be to us, as it were, 
an immortal offspring of the soul. 

Love is that mystical yearning for the beautiful and ' 
good, that contemplation of them with insight and joy, 
which makes them an ecstatic possession of the soul. 
Plato's conception of love he presents in the form of a 
parable, wherein he represents man as originally created 
by Zeus in the shape of a ball, with four hands and feet, 
two faces, and the rest in harmony. As man threatened 
to invade the very regions of the gods, so great was his 
terrible swiftness and strength, Zeus hit upon the device 
of cutting him in two ; and thus the two sexes came into 
being. These severed halves are eternally seeking for 
each other, that the perfect whole may again be made, 
and the old joy and happiness realised. Love, says Plato, 
is the desire, the pursuit, of the whole, that the com-j 
pleted man may be attained. 

In this parable, Plato would lead us to understand that 
man cannot exist in isolation, and that perfection can be 
had only by unity of soul. He finds this in what we call 
friendship, love of man for man, rather than in romantic 
love, or the love of man and woman. He also imagina- I 
tively proves to us that love is the great mediator, the 
eternal reconciler, between severed human souls. This 
reconciliation is yearned for with the soul's utmost inten- ; 
sity, because it is an anticipation, albeit indistinct, of an 
ideal union which will be realised in the eternal ages. 

In the 'Phsedrus,' Plato interprets love with the help 
of his doctrine of pre-existence, or transmigration. Those 
who love here are those who have been associated in the 


former world, and have worshipped together the same god. 

Here Plato doubtless brings in something of the Greek 

, . conception that love is a divine ecstasy or madness, and 

therefore in some sense under the direction of a heavenly 

power. It is a mystical recollection, a reunion of those 

who have been long separated by the exigencies of their 

} spiritual existence. 

In these highly imaginative conceptions of Plato are the 
germs of romantic love. So surely are they there that every 
teacher and singer of romantic love has turned back to 
Plato for the philosophic interpretation of the human ex- 
perience, which gives to such love its justification. It was 
not possible for such conceptions to lie wholly dormant 
until the time of Dante and the age- of chivalry, in order 
to find an expression. .These highly poetic spiritual in- 
sights of Plato gave to the Neo-Platonists the foundations 
for their airy structures of philosophic interpretation ; and 
with them we find hints, now and then, of a finer com- 
prehension of the nieaning of love. At least, the old 
sensualism had passed away, and a yearning for mo.ral 
purity had taken its place. Among the Stoics, in Plutarch 
and Pliny, we find some enlarging conception of the re- 
lations of man. and woman, which show that Plato had not 
spoken in vain. With the later poets, especially the poets 
of the Anthology, we come occasionally upon some lyric, 
some love-song, some praise of a beloved woman, which 
shows most clearly that the conception of romantic love 
"had, even as the first faint peeping forth of the colour of 
the rosebud, come to its earliest expression in the adora- 
tion of a woman by a man. It is so unlike all that'has 
.gone before in the Gre,ek conception of woman, and the 
love between the sexes, 'that we cannot but see it is a new 
thing, of the highest beauty, born into the world. 

How romantic love grew we cannot tell, though we 
know that the Teutonic adoration of woman was. an 
element in its development, that the Christian conception 


of man's spiritual nature and existence had its influence, 
and that other factors of medievalism wrought upon it. 
We know that it came to its perfection suddenly, in the 
troubadours, in chivalry, and in Dante. Its consummate 
bloom appeared in the life and poetry of Petrarch, where 
we find its every element and its utmost capacity. 

Romantic love is the adoration, or even more than that, 
the worsliip, of woman by man. It is not enough that 
man should love woman, that he should delight in her 
beauty, and that he should find his greatest happiness in 
her companionship, in order to the existence of romantic 
love. He must worship her ; he must find in her some- 
thing far above himself; he must take her word as his 
absolute command. One of the troubadours said that he \ 
would prefer to be with his lady rather than with God in 
Paradise. This is an extravagant statement of what all 
the poets and knights of the age of chivalry found in their 
conception of love. 

Among the Greeks a woman of ravishing beauty was 
thought to be a manifestation of the -divine, so that no 
harm could be done her, for in her some god made himself 
known to men. The Germans saw in. woman a like divine 
quality, for she had the gift of divine knowledge, and 
a power of spiritual insight denied to man. It is this idea, 
clothed with the richest sentiment, made extravagant in 
an age of emotional fervour, that we find expressed in 
romantic love. 

The mediaeval interpreters of romantic love turned to 
Plato as the great teacher of its doctrines and its spirit ; 
but they made the recipient of the love the source of in- 
spiration rather than the lover himself, as with Plato. 
His mania they changed into ecstatic joy, so that in the 
worship of the lady they found an exquisite delight. 
Mulrihausen, one of tHe minnesingers, said of his lady, 
that when God made her he did not forget anything. 
He also said that he would prefer her even to the crown 


of Rome, if he must choose between them. Not only did 
chivalry find in woman a living symbol of the highest 
purity and holiness, but it found an exquisite delight, an 
eternal joy and ecstasy of soul, in rendering to her adora- 
tion and worship. 

In accordance with this sentiment, Dante and Petrarch 
attributed all that was pure and noble in them to the 
influence of the women they loved. Dante said that 
Beatrice had revealed to him all virtue and all wisdom. 
Petrarch blessed the happy moment which directed his 
heart to Laura, for she led him to the path of virtue, to 
cast out of his heart all base and grovelling objects. She 
it was who inspired him with that celestial flame which 
raised his soul to heaven, and directed it to the Supreme 
Cause as the only source of happiness. 

Was Beatrice a woman, or divine philosophy, or a 
spiritual ideal ? She was all three, and the last more than 
the first. 

Dante knew what Plato meant when he represented the 
lover as seeking the beloved one to whom he had been at- 
tached in the world out of which they had come ; but it 
was the peculiarity of chivalry that an actual woman be- 
came for it the symbol of its ideal. So we find Petrarch 
saying that it was not the person of Laura he loved, but 
her soul. He might have said that he loved her soul as 
the incarnation of the Eternal Love, and as the perfect 
ideal of the heavenly life. He does say that she pointed 
out to him the way to heaven along which she was his 
guide. Love transforms the lover, he tells us; and it 
assimilates him to the object of his love. He loved her 
alone ; he suffered all things for her sake ; he sacrificed all 
his wishes and pleasures that he might be more nearly like 
her, for in her he found all virtue and all perfection. It 
was fit that Beatrice should be the guide of Dante through 
the world to come, for she was to him a messenger of the 
eternal wisdom, a guide to that spiritual Paradise which 


passes not away, because eternal in the heavens. Love 
was to the mediaeval poet and knight a means of spiritual 
attainment, and a way of salvation truer than any other. 
It is by the means of love, we are liberated from earthly 
thralldoms, trained for spiritual victories, and prepared for 
the freer communion and joy of the heavenly country. 

After this glance at the history of romantic love, and at 
some of its poets and doctrines, we are prepared to turn to 
Browning for the study of those shorter poems of his in 
which the romantic spirit breathes out all its tender spiritual 
life. We cannot read 'Evelyn Hope,' 'Cristina,' or other 
of Browning's poems, without feeling that he has lived 
with Plato or Petrarch; and we know from two or three 
of his poems that he was familiar with the Prove^als. 
He could not produce the old life or the old worship ; no 
modern can do that in the manner of the medieval poets. 
We cannot worship woman now in the spirit of Petrarch, 
for women are wiser than to permit it, even if men did not 
know better. We have found in woman an equal, not an 
inferior that becomes in some strange mystical way the 
symbol to us of the divine life. 

Browning writes, as a modern poet, reverencing woman, 
finding in her an eternal charm ; because of her equality 
with himself she is other, weaker and yet nobler. Though 
a modern, the spirit of chivalry remains with him ; and the 
very heart of romantic love he has reproduced in some of 
the finest of his lyrical poems. Had he been reading Plato 
before he wrote 'Cristina'? We cannot read it without 
feeling that it thrills with the echo of the far-off Greek 
voice that told of the struggle of man and woman to find 
each other, that love might make them one, and therefore 
make them whole. 

Browning did not write ' Cristina ' merely for the pur- 
pose of describing a coquettish woman, hard of heart, and 
careless of her victims. He wrote it in the spirit of ro- 
mantic love, to sing the deep mystery which draws a man 


and woman together, and which makes their long life an 
ecstasy of mutual comfort and courage. Cristina awakened 
love, but she gave no return. The lover found they were 
made for each other, that some profound spiritual affinity 
had linked them together, and that only in their love of 
each other could the' true destiny of their lives be wrought 
out. Cristina saw the heavenly vision for a moment, knew 
that their souls were linked by ties of spiritual destiny, 
that they could 'never fulfil the true purpose of their lives 
without each other; but the world's honours, in her, 
trampled out the light forever. When the lover knows 
this, he turns away in sadness and pain to pour out his 
heart, but with the comfort that no failure of hers can hide 
from him the heavenly vision, or keep him from loving 
even where return of love is denied. Plato's conception 
of lovers as drawn to .each other because of some mystic 
reminiscence of their past lives, reappears in this poem. 

Doubt you if, in some such moment, 

As she fixed me, she felt clearly, 
Ages past the soul existed, 

Here an age 't is resting merely, 
And hence fleets again for ages, 

While the true end, sole and single, 
It stops here for is, this love-way, 

With some other soul to mingle? 

Else it loses what it lived for, 

And eternally must lose it ; 
Better ends may be in prospect, 

Deeper blisses (if you choose it), 
But this life's end and this love-bliss 

Have been lost here. Doubt you whether 
This she felt as, looking at me, 

Mine and her souls rushed together ? 

In this poem, Browning is true throughout to the roman- 
tic spirit ; for not only does he present Plato's reminiscence 
of love, that repeats what other worlds have known, but he 
shows that love is an intuition which reveals our spiritual 


destiny. These intuitions come like "Cashes struck from 
midnights," to show us the real meaning of our life, and to 
keep us in the way of the spirit's true endowments. The 
same doctrine of reminisce'hce and intuition is made use of 
in ' Evelyn Hope.' 

In it we have the very essence of romantic love as a 
modern poet may draw it from the heart of Plato's ' Phae- 
drus.' It is a spiritual bond that is woven in the providence 
of God, and that no discords or perplexities of earth can 
hinder from making the two know each other as one. 
This conception of love as an eternal union of two souls ,(, 
finds expression again and again in Browning's poems.'' 
'(The tragic element with which he deals is not the ordinary 
discord between mortals, but their failure to realise what 
belongs to them as spiritual beings. In 'Any Wife to any 
Husband,' the dying wife is struggling with her fear that 
the husband is not inspired with the same affection as her 
own, and that when she is gone, he will find comfort in_ 
loving some other woman. He may fail to know that love ( 
is the guardian angel of the soul on its way toward the 
higher life ; and he may be contented with the passions 
and affections of the fleeting years, instead of seeking and 
finding that one true love which is destined to lift the soul 
out of the mire, and to be -to it a shining light for eternal j 

In ' Two in the Campagna,' it is the woman who will 
not love ; and because she will not, love's tragedy of pas- 
sion and pain has its place in the lover's history. It is not 
only satisfaction of love which helps the soul to find its 
way upward, but the failure of love is a part of that mystic 
experience by which we are fitted for the life to come. 
The lover pleads with all the eloquence of his heart that 
he will do the loved one's will, see with her eyes, make 
his heart beat with hers, bow down to her and worship her, 
if she will but give back to him love that will be like his 
own. When he learns that she will not give herself as he 


gives himself, he finds that, though he has failed of the 
love he desires, there yet remains 

Infinite passion, and the pain 
Of finite hearts that yearn, 

and that even in these the soul finds purification and re- 
demption. Well is it for the lover if he loves her out of a 
pure heart, even if love gives him no return of the love for 
which his soul longs above all other things. If in his love 
he has been base, how fearful is the shame, and how is he 
cast out from the presence of the being he has loved in 
vain ! This is the thought of ' The Worst of It,' though 
it is the woman who has sinned, and not the man. The 
man has been cruelly betrayed, but he cannot forget that 
he has loved ; and he still hopes that the future will in 
some way blot out what has been all evil here. He cannot 
forget, even though he knows how he has been sinned 
against by the woman he loved. 

Dear, I look from my hiding-place. 

Are you still so fair ? Have you still the eyes ? 
Be happy ! Add but the other grace, 

Be good ! Why want what the angels vaunt ? 
I knew you once : but in Paradise, 

If we meet, I will pass nor turn my face. 

Even out of romantic love may grow a curse, because of 
the tragedy which ever lurks in its excess of sentiment 
and passion. The love of Mertoun for Mildred, in 'A 
Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' is of the romantic type; but it 
did not give to him that soul of honour which keeps the 
lover from even the faintest suggestion of .that which is 
ignoble. When he sings of his loved one, it is in the 
manner and spirit of the troubadour, 

There 's a woman like a dew-drop, she 's so purer than the purest ; 
And her noble heart 's the noblest, yes, and her sure faith 's the surest. 

Love which can sing like this may make false steps that 
lead to misunderstandings, and then to that tragic ending 
in pain and death, which is the consequence of sin. 


Browning has depicted every form of love, and love( 
under every circumstance. He does not confine himself 
to the romantic, or to the love which is a pure sentiment 
of the heart, or to that which is a deep intuition of the 
soul. We cannot follow him now into all the variety he 
has given to the strongest of all human sentiments ; but 
ever we may find in his account of it the touch of his 
own romantic spirit. Above what is gross or cruel or 
tragic, lingers ever some light of the passion that soars 
heavenward, and that will realise in an eternal union of 
soul with soul that which belongs to man as a spiritual 

Not only has Browning given us passion and tragedy, 
but he has also given us simple domestic affection, as in 
' By the Fireside.' In this poem he shows what love may 
be, not in its romantic or its tragic form, but in its form 
of help to man and woman in the home. The lovers here 
are concerned mainly for what will help them to make 
life sweet and noble ; and their hearthside is a quiet 
abiding-place of helpfulness and tender affection. They 
have not always succeeded. There have been misunder- 
standings, words that were spoken in anger, and with- 
drawal of affection when it was most needed ; yet through 
all that has tried them, and made love more difficult, there 
has come growth of soul. The lover has found, through 
his experience, that life is a means of discovering himself 
to himself, of testing his own capacities, and of showing 
to others that which he can be to them. In this process 
of self-revelation, nothing is so important as love, which 
searches into every corner of the soul, and brings out 
everything there is in one. What the soul is, what it 
has learned, what it may become, makes itself known in 
any great experience that tries it to its utmost depths. 
Such an experience love always is to the soul, when 
it has in it any great reality of passionate yearning and 


I am named and known by that moment's feat ; 

There took my station and degree ; 
So grew my own small life complete, 

As nature obtained her best of me 
One born to love you, sweet ! 

And to watch you sink by the fire-side now 

Back again, as you mutely sit 
Musing by fire-light, that great brow 

And the spirit-small hand propping it, 
Yonder, my heart knows how ! 

So, earth has gained by one man the more, 
And the gain of earth must be heaven's gain too. 

This word out of Browning's own love-history, this 
description of his wife as she sat by his side, shows us 
what romantic love was to him as an element in his own 
personal experience. He said that 

Earth is just our chance for learning love, 
What love may be indeed, and is. 

It was to him all that he had dreamed it should be in his 
early romantic poems. It was to him a romance ; it had 
its tragic element of misunderstanding, hindrance, and 
pain ; and it realised for him his utmost dream of its 
spiritual illumination and redemptive power. 

His ' Men and Women,' the first volume he sent forth 
to the world after his marriage, shows how much love 
..was to him, and how it had enlarged rather than lessened 
his conception of romantic love. In that sweetest and 
loftiest of all his poems, which he calls ' One Word More,' 
and with which he ends that book, he turns back to Dante 
and Raphael for such inspiration as is worthy, with which 
to address his wife. He recalls how Dante sang of his 
Beatrice, and how Raphael painted his Madonnas ; and he 
longs for the power to make known the depth of his own 
affection for her he loves. At last he exclaims, 

God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures 
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with, 
One to show a woman when he loves her ! 


Dante and Raphael drew on their imaginations for the 
women they painted, having the help of real women, it 
is true ; but not contented with that they saw, they 
reached out of sight to find the perfect in the ideal. 
Browning has not found it necessary to go from his own 
fireside 'to find the Madonna of Raphael or the angel of 

Oh, their Rafael of the dear Madonnas, 
Oh, their Dante of the dread Inferno, 
Wrote one song and in my brain I sing it, 
Drew one angel borne, see, on my bosom ! 

And when that loved one of the " great brow and the \ 
spirit-small hand " had passed hence to some other world, 
her poet could not think of her less, or dream of her withj 
other than the old tenderness. After many years, he 
found expression in ' The Ring and the Book ' for the 
affection which had grown stronger with the passing years. 
It lived on with growing depths of yearning and reality, 
because it was not merely a love to the person, but a love 
for the soul ; because it was a union of heart with heart 
in what is spiritual and therefore eternal. 

It is the old romantic spirit which makes Browning 
invoke his wife, his ascended and transfigured wife, as 
the Muse which should inspire him as he wrote 'The 
Ring and the Book.' Therein he wrote of Pompilia, as a 
troubadour might have written of the chosen one of his 
song. He wrote with many a vision of her who had been 
once the inspiration of his life. Hence he invoked the 
loved one, who was now as near and real as then. - 

This is the same voice : can thy soul know change ? 
Hail then, and hearken from the realms of help ! 
Never may I commence my song, my due 
To God, who best taught song by gift of thee, 
Except with bent head and beseeching hand 
That still, despite the distance and the dark, 
What was, again may be ; some interchange 
Of grace, some splendour once thy very thought, 


Some benediction anciently thy smile : 
Never conclude, but raising hand and head 
Thither where eyes, that cannot reach, yet yearn 
For all hope, all sustainment, all reward. 

Some years later on, there came to Browning once more 
a reminiscence of his wife, and this time with reference to 
the reality of that world in which he had imaginatively 
found her as the Muse of his great poem. And curiously, 
he thinks of her still again in company with Dante. 
While they were together here he had written in her 
New Testament some words out of the Florentine's 
account of his Beatrice. Now he recalled those words as 
expressing his thought about the immortal life, and Ke 
wrote them to a friend for her comforting. Fourteen 
years before, he had written down these words for the 
eye of the woman he loved : " Thus I believe, thus I 
affirm, thus I am certain it is, that from this life I shall 
pass to another better, there, where that lady lives of 
whom my soul is enamoured. " He recalls these words, 
and finds in them the true faith of his soul ; for he could 
not think that death or eternity would separate from him 
her who had been to him the highest ideal because the 
most perfect vision of reality. 

It is not the romantic love of Plato, Dante, or the 
troubadours, which we find in the poems of Browning. 
He has modernised it, and he has given it a character of 
his own. With him it is less sentimental, languishing, 
and sickly, has more in it of the true ring of life. It is 
quite as tender, as full of yearning, and with a spiritual 
vision as lofty. He is as little inclined as they to what is 
conventional in love, and to what is born of convenience 
and utilitarian considerations. He will make it lofty with 
sentiment ; he will clothe it in forms of beauty ; he will 
, make it voice and guide his spiritual yearnings ; and he 
I must find in it a revelation of life and eternity. 

The spirit of romantic love the world yet needs, that 


man and woman may find in each other the oneness which 
makes them whole. Its sentimentalism, its extravagance 
of passion, its disregard for reality, should pass away, 
because they can no longer help us ; but its tenderness, 
its chivalric fidelity, its imaginative yearning for a purer 
life, its lofty devotion and consecration, should yet remain 
with us, to make wedded life all that we desire. That 
can be realised to-day, not in the manner of romantic love, 
but by seeing in woman, on the part of man, a being that 
is other than himself, but yet his equal. She is equal in 
her individuality, which should command his respect, and 
which should be held by him in such honour as to be sacred 
and inviolable. 

In the time of Plato, woman was the slave of man's 
passion ; in the time of Dante, she was the goddess of his 
sentimental love ; in the time of Browning, she had 
become the object of his personal esteem, loved for her 
own sake, and because he found in her a companionship 
which supplemented and revealed his own individuality. 
To Browning, as well as to Dante and Petrarch, love was 
a spiritual revelation. He saw in the individuality of 
woman that which made his own life richer, that which 
purified and refined his conceptions of personal being, and 
that which opened to him widening visions of spiritual 

Love is that passion of the soul which leads man to for- 
get himself in the life of another, which shows him his 
most perfect existence in living for another individual, 
and which proves to him that he can in no wise save his 
soul except by losing it. Such love becomes romantic 
when it passes through the love of the one wherein life 
finds its enshrinement of tenderness and comfort, to the 
forgetfulness of self in the great life of humanity and 
service to fellow-men, and then on upward to spiritual 
love of the Infinite One. It is the revelation of the 
Infinite Love to our souls which makes any worthy love 



of woman for man, or man for woman. When the love 
with which God searches out the heart of a man turns 
back to him through the love of woman, the expression of 
it appears as romantic love. It was such love which made 
Dante sing of Beatrice, 

She goes her way, and hears men's praises free, 
Clothed in a garb of kindness, meek and low, 
And seems as if from heaven she came, to show 
Upon the earth a wondrous mystery. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, November 24, 1891.] 

PHILOSOPHY and art are supposed by some people to be at 
variance; and they are certainly different in aim, method, 
and result. For the aim of philosophy is truth, the aim 
of art is beauty. The method of philosophy is critical 
reflection, proceeding from the known to the unknown by 
logical processes. The method of art is creation, or repre- 
sentation, transforming the ideal into the real, and the real 
into the ideal, through the fusing power of the imagina- 
tion. The result of philosophy is a system that appeals to 
the intellect, and that explains or tries to explain phe- 
nomena. The result of art is a creation or " concrete repre- 
sentation, which, uniting matter and spirit, substance and 
form, real and ideal, into a complete organic whole, ad- 
dresses itself at once to the senses, the intellect, and the 

But deeper than all these divisions is the union of phil- 
osophy and art. While it is true that neither philosophy 
nor art is at its best until it is free, and while each is 
supreme in its own realm, both emanate from a common 
source, and each lends to the other something of itself. 
Both are deeply concerned with ideas. The sense impres- 
sions of philosopher and artist alike are reinforced and 
transformed by the critical energy of mind. The artistic 
impulse would be without significance or strength were it 
not nourished by meditation ; thought makes of the mind 


of the artist a magnet, drawing to itself images and ideas, 
and thus enabling him to create out of the garnered wealth 
of his own soul and the universe. " Let no one hope with- 
out deep thought," said Plato, "to fashion everlasting 
material into eternal form ; " and a modern writer with 
more fulness of truth has said : " More than the painter is 
required for the creation of great painting, and more than 
the poet for the exhibition of immortal verse. Painters 
are but the hands, and poets but the voices, whereby 
peoples express their accumulated thoughts and permanent 
emotions. Behind these crowd the generations of the 
myth-makers, and around them floats the vital atmosphere 
of enthusiasms on which their own souls and the souls of 
their brethren have been nourished." 1 

On the other hand, philosophy could ill afford to dis- 
pense with " the idealised and monumental utterances " 
of art, its witness to the unity of man and the world, 
and its penetrating glances into the facts and principles of 
the spiritual universe. The result of philosophic work can 
never become generally current, or " dear and genuine 
inmates of the household of man," so long as they are 
insulated by the intellect, or dwarfed by dogmatic state- 
ment, but these results must be vitalised by the emotions 
and the imagination, and this is the peculiar work of art. 
Mr. Browning at the end of ' The Ring and the Book ' 
states the philosophic content of that great and long poem 
in a very few words. He then asks, ''Why take the 
artistic way to prove so much? Because it is the glory 
and good of art, that art remains the one way possible 
of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least. How 
look a brother in the- face and say, ' thy right is wrong, 
eyes hast thou yet blind, thine ears are stuffed and stopped, 
despite their length : and, oh, the foolishness thou countest 
faith ! ' Say this as silverly as tongue can troll : the anger 
of the man may be endured ; the shrug, the disappointed 

. 1 Symonds. 


eyes of him are not so bad to bear : but here 's the plague, 
that all this trouble comes of telling truth, which truth, by 
when it reaches him, looks false, seems to be just the thing 
it would supplant, nor recognisable by whom it left : while 
falsehood would have done the work of truth. But Art, 
wherein man nowise speaks to men, only to mankind, Art 
may tell a truth obliquely, do the tiling shall breed the 
thought, nor wrong the thought, missing the mediate word. 
So you may paint your picture, twice show truth, beyond 
mere imagery on the wall, so, note by note, bring music 
from your mind deeper than ever e'en Beethoven dived, 
so write a book shall mean beyond the facts, suffice the 
eye and save the soul beside." 

The greatest poets and artists have chosen this "more 
excellent way " of presenting truth, and are significant 
alike for the truthfulness of their ideas and the beauty of 
their artistic forms. " Ten silent centuries," it is said, 
found a voice in Dante, and " the truths to which he gave 
immortal expression had been slowly crystallising in the 
consciousness of the Christian world." Now, Dante was a 
student of scholasticism and a lecturer upon it as well. 
The passage through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, as 
described in his 'Divine Comedy,' is the thread for the 
exposition of his doctrines. It would be difficult to find 
in this poem a truth that cannot be found in the writings^ 
of Albert or Thomas Aquinas. But the poem is much 
more than a system of philosophy or of theology; it is a 
vision, at once terrible and inspiring, not of the mediaeval 
world alone, but of the world of humanity, and the esseiv 
tial conditions of the soul in any country, in any age, on 
such a pilgrimage. Scholasticism may have furnished the 
warp for Dante's sublime weaving, but the pattern, the 
texture, the figures, the perennial significance, all that 
appeals to the imagination and stirs the soul, is due to 
the genius of the poet. 

What Dante did, transfigured scholasticism for the 


"poor laity of love " to read,- a score of painters and 
sculptors sought to do in the first great period of Italian 
art, the period covered by Browning iii his poem, ' Old 
Pictures in Florence.' More orthodox than Dante, dom- 
inated more by the church, and guilty, many of them, of 
picturesque infidelity, their work has not been so world- 
wide in its influence, or so significant to the modern mind. 
But in those days, when so few could read and there was 
so little for them to read, painting was in Italy the most 
potent means for the education of the people. 

Hence, every great conception of the Middle Ages, dog- 
matic theology and pagan philosophy, Christian and pagan 
virtues, moral and political precepts, Biblical stories and 
monkish legends, saints and ecclesiasts, the bliss of the 
blessed and the miseiy of the damned, whatever was 
thought needful for the religious and civil life of man, 
was painted on the walls of churches and palaces. 

Let us now consider the relation of Browning's art to 
the philosophy of his age. " The stream of tendency " in 
the nineteenth century is not, like that of the age of 
scholasticism, pervaded by a movement that carries all 
activities with it ; it has many currents, and the main 
current is not always the same. There must be much 
interaction in a century so complex as ours ; hence, the 
philosophic relation of such a complex poet as Browning 
can be determined only approximately. With the philo- 
sophic movement of John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer, 
Browning has little in common. It is too narrow, too 
mechanical, too materialistic, too destructive of the soul's 
freedom, to nurture a great poet. Mill himself, fled for 
relief from his own philosophy to the poetry of Words- 
worth ; Herbert Spencer's suggestive phrase, " transfigured 
realism," is a confession of the need he feels for a more 
spiritual view of things. But the mind cannot be trans- 
figured by a mere physical complement with vague sugges- 
tions of an Unknowable Force behind it. As a recent 


writer justly says : " Herbert Spencer leaves matter and 
mind, nature and thought, over against each other without 
vital relation, without explanation, and without a clue to 
that Unknowable Something in which they somehow 
combine, and which somehow animates and explains them 
both." Or as Browning himself puts it in the person of 
the prophet John in ' A Death in the Desert ' : 

. For I say, this is death and the sole death, 
When a man's loss comes to him from his gain, 
Darkness from light, from knowledge ignorance, 
And lack of love from love made manifest ; 
A lamp's death when, replete with oil, it chokes ; 
A stomach's when, surcharged with food, it starves. 
With ignorance was surety of a cure. 
When man, appalled at nature, questioned first, 

" What if there lurk a might behind this might ? " 
He needed satisfaction God could give, 
And did give, as ye have the written word : 
But when he finds might still redouble might, 
Yet asks, " Since all is might, what use of will ? " 
Will, the one source of might, he being man 
With a man's will and a man's might, to teach 
In little how the two combine in large, 
That man has turned round on himself and stands, 
Which in the course of nature is, to die. 

And when man questioned, " What if there be love 
" Behind the will and might, as real as they 1 " 
He needed satisfaction God could give, 
And did give, as ye have the written word : 
But when, beholding that love everywhere, 
He reasons, " Since such love is everywhere, 
And since ourselves can love and would be loved, 
We ourselves make the love, and Christ was not," 
How shall ye help this man who knows himself, 
That he must love and would be loved again, 
Yet, owning his own love that proveth Christ, 
Rejecteth Christ through very need of Him ? 
The lamp o'erswims with oil, the stomach flags 
Loaded with nurture, and that man's soul dies. 

By far the broadest movement in the nineteenth century 
thought, the movement that has overspread and modified 


all others, is the scientific. By the scientific, I mean__a 
certain way of looking at things, certain methods of inves- 
tigation and thought, rather than any specific system or 
theories ; and, as such, it has been all pervasive ; every 
kind of intellectual activity, even the poetic, has been 
influenced by it. 

Browning has the scientific habit of mind, he has the 
critical scrutiny that examines from different points of 
view, sifts, and endeavours to approach more and more to 
the conception that represents the maximum of truth. 
Browning has also the enlightened curiosity for facts that 
distinguishes science, the sympathy for old religions and 
civilisations, the hospitality to new ideas and theories. 

Science has been " a precious visitant," indeed, to Brown- 
ing, because she has " furnished clear guidance, a support 
not treacherous to the mind's excursive power." 

In addition to the point of view of scientific realism, 
Browning has that of idealism, and employed his genius as 
an artist to give expression to the results of both. " He 
knows," says a recent writer, " the 'infinite significances' 
that facts have for thought, and how this significance 
comes of the mind's own laws and depths. He is, in a 
word, an idealist in the last resort. Behind the energetic 
realism and strong grip on facts is a ' visionary power,' and 
sense of ideas convictions and passions that claim and 
affirm a world more real because ideal. He has the poet's 
ulterior, intellectual perception, the artist's sense of the 
reality of the ideal, the thinker's conviction of its spiritu- 
ality. Aware of both sides of experience, and keenly 
"aware of its real side, he yet seeks on its ideal side the clue 
to experience and to the unknowable elements of man's 
own nature. Of all worlds, to him the most real is the 
world of man's thought and passion. 

" The beliefs and emotions, the characters and actions 
of men, the expression of man through religion and art, 
the revelation of man in literature and history here, 


indeed, is a realm of facts of most curious and profound 
interest, facts requiring and rewarding interpretation more 
than any other facts, and throwing more light than the 
whole body of physical knowledge on all that is of most 
value for us to know. . . . In an age of science mainly 
physical, he has maintained and illustrated the supreme 
interest and most real significance of man, not only to him- 
self and with reference to every ' use ' of life, but with 
reference to knowledge too. To this ground he has kept ; 
from this standpoint and with this outlook all his work 
has been made." 1 

Browning's affinity for idealism has already been indi- 
cated. He is identified with a movement of human thought 
that is as old as Plato. His idealism, however, is^not that 
of Plato, but that which owed its most modern impulse to 
Kant and his successors, and has been accelerated by the 
poetry of Schiller and Goethe, Shelley and Wordsworth. 
These philosophers have made the most successful attempts 
to reconcile what has been called " the three great terms 
of thought, world, self, and God," while the poets have 
sought to embody them in artistic forms. Neither has suc- 
ceeded perfectly ; indeed, the perfect reconciliation of 
matter, thought, and spirit will be the final achievement of 
philosophy, as their perfect realisation will be the crowning 
glory of art and religion. In ' Paracelsus,' in his sublime 
vision of a true evolution, Browning has foreseen this 
reconciliation. Thus God- 

Dwells in all, 

From life's minute beginnings, up at last 
To man the consummation of this scheme 
Of being, the completion of this sphere 
Of life : whose attributes had here and there 
Been scattered o'er the visible world before, 
Asking to be combined, dim fragments meant 
To be united in some wondrous whole, 
Imperfect qualities throughout creation, 
Suggesting some one creature yet to make, 

1 Henry Jones : ' Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher.' 


Some point where all those scattered rays should meet 
Convergent in the faculties of man. 

Progress is 

The law of life, man is not Man as yet. 
Nor shall I deem his object served, his end 
Attained, his genuine strength put fairly forth 
While only here and there ... a towering inmd 
O'erlooks its prostrate fellows : when the host 
Is out at once to the despair of night, 
When all mankind alike is perfected, 
Equal in full-blown powers then, not till then, 
I say, begins man's general infancy. 

Here are the steps of this reconciliation : God in nature 
working toward man, God in man working toward a com- 
plete humanity, and this complete humanity is "stung 
with hunger " for the divine fulness. Thus " nature," as 
one says, " is on its way back to God, gathering treasure as 
it goes." 

Browning, thus interpreting God, man, and nature from 
an idealistic point of view, naturally discovered in art a 
deep significance. Like Kant and his successors, he con- 
nected art very closely with character. To Schiller, the 
beautiful was an intimation of the true and the good ; art 
was a means to these. More exactly than any one before 
him, Schiller estimated the importance of the artistic feeling 
for the development of humanity. Hegel connects the 
three general forms of art, the symbolic, the classic, and 
the romantic, with the three essential stages through which 
the spirit of man must pass in its development. And 
Browning's art-poems are studies of character in certain 
forms and periods of artistic activity. 

An art-critic, intent only upon literal accuracy, would 
not accept the judgments expressed in those poems with- 
out many qualifications. He would cite, for example, the 
frescoes of Andrea del Sarto in the entrance court of Santa 
Annunciata in Florence, their great dignity, their fresh 
passion and imagination, as evidence that Andrea was more 
than the clever realist Browning has described. Sandro, 


better known as Botticelli, is classified by Browning in his 
' Old Pictures in Florence ' with Giotto, Taddeo Gaddi, 
and Cimabue, but Botticelli was a pupil of Fra Lippo Lippi, v 
who ushered in the next period of Italian art. Many such 
criticisms might be made, but they do not invalidate the 
truth of Browning's art-poems. His principle of classifica- 
tion transcends such minor distinctions, and is concerned 
with the exemplification in art of certain types of character. 
Andrea del Sarto, it is true, occasionally rises to a great 
dignity of expression, but the general level of his art, as of 
his life, was low, stereotyped, and sordid. Botticelli, 
though a pupil of Lippi, had a strong individuality, and 
belonged in spirit to the school of Giotto. Few painters 
have made every part of their work so tributary to an idea, 
or striven more earnestly after ideal beauty. 

In the poem, ' Old Pictures in Florence,' Browning 
shows that romantic art in its crude form is superior to 
Greek art in its perfection, simply because it manifests a 
higher ideal of the human soul. He is not unmindful of 
the glory of the Grecian character and art. The very 
atmosphere in which the Greeks lived was pellucid, and 
their thought was like it. They had, too, an intense 
love of sensuous beauty, a love that a clear, translucent 
sky, blue crystalline seas, and each old poetic mountain 
"inspiration breathing around," so nurtured that it be- 
came their master passion. Naturally their thoughts 
became transfigured into images ; the more vivid the con- 
ception, the more sensuous it seemed; indeed, thought 
and image became one. The spirit of man for a time saw 
its ideal realised in the grand and beautiful forms of the 
Grecian divinities. 

But no sensuous representation, however excellent, could 
long seem an adequate expression to the developing soul 
of man. Spirit alone can satisfy spirit, and only in its 
own realm, the inner realm of the soul, can it find its true 
reality. In the decadence of Grecian art, in proportion as 


there was a surrender to outer vision and as bodily charm 
was sought as an end, the human spirit turned its gaze 
inward and communed with its own loftier ideals. Philos- 
ophy dissolved the splendid Grecian mythology into a 
single, infinite, invisible divinity. Idea and sensuous image 
were separated. Then Christianity came, insisting upon 
the Divine Spirit as the absolute ideal, and glorifying the 
soul at the expense of the body, if need be. Christian 
virtues had no necessary connection with bodily symmetry 
and grace. A Greek faun must be graceful, a Greek god 
must be vigorous, but a Christian saint without any physi- 
cal charm might be enshrined with glory. The Greek had 
no appreciation for such beauty as St. Bernard saw in his 
hymn to the Crucified One : 

All the strength and bloom are faded, 
Who hath thus Thy state degraded ? 
Death upon Thy form is written ; 
See the wan, worn limbs, the smitten 
Breast upon the cruel tree. 

Thus despised and desecrated, 
Thus in dying desolated, 
Slain for me, of sinners vilest, 
Loving Lord, on me Thou smilest : 
Shine, bright face, and strengthen me. 

But it was just such spiritual beauty as this that was 
the strength of the soul in this stage of its development, 
and it was the mission of romantic art to reveal this 

Now let us turn to Browning's poem and observe how he 
distinguishes between these two stages, between classic and 
romantic art : 

When Greek Art ran and reached the goal, 
Thus much had the world to boast infructu 

The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken, 
Which the actual generations garble, 

Was re-uttered, and Soul (which Limbs betoken) 
And Limbs (Soul informs) made new in marble. 


So, you saw yourself as you wished you were, 

As you might have been, as you cannot be 
Earth here, rebuked by Olympus there : 

And grew content in your poor degree 
With your little power, by those statues' godhead, 

And your little scope, by their eyes' full sway, 
And your little grace, by their grace embodied, 

And your little date, by their forms that stay. 

Growth came when, looking your last on them all, 

You turned your eyes inwardly one fine day 
And cried with a start, What if we so small 

Be greater and grander the while than they ? 
Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature ? 

In both, of such lower types are we 
Precisely because of our wider nature ; 

For time, theirs ours, for eternity. 

To-day's brief passion limits their range ; 

It seethes with the morrow for us and more. 
They are perfect how else ? they shall never change : 

We are faulty why not ? we have time in store. 
The Artificer's hand is not arrested 

With us ; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished : 
They stand for our copy, and, once invested 

With all they can teach, we shall see them abolished. 

'T is a life-long toil till our lump be leaven 
The better ! What 's come to perfection perishes. 

Things learned on earth, we shall practise in heaven : 
Works done least rapidly, Art most cherishes. 

On which I conclude, that the early painters, 

To cries of " Greek Art and what more wish you ? " 
Replied, "To become now self-acquainters, 

And paint man, man, whatever the issue ! 
Make new hopes shine through the flesh they fray, 

New fears aggrandise the rags and tatters : 
To bring the invisible full into play ! 

Let the visible go to the dogs what matters ? " 

The degeneracy of art has always been characterised by 
a turning away from the invisible and a bowing down to 
the visible. The limitation and condemnation of all such 


art may be found in the poem of 'Andrea del Sarto. 1 
Andrea speaks of his easy mastery of his art : 

I can do with my pencil what I know, 
What I see, what at bottom of my heart 
. I wish for, if I ever wish so deep 
Do easily, too when I say, perfectly, 
I do not boast, perhaps : yourself are judge, 
Who listened to the Legate's talk last week, 
And just as much they used to say in France. 
At any rate 't is easy, all of it ! 
No sketches first, no studies, that 's long past : 
I do what many dream of, all their lives, 
Dream ? strive to do, and agonise to do, 
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such 
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town, 
Who strive you don't know how the others strive 
To paint a little thing like that yon smeared 
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat, 
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone sa3 r s, 
(I know his name, no matter) so much less ! 

But his ideal is lower than that of others who are not so 
skilful, and he feels that he falls below them : 

Well, less is more, Lncrezia : I am judged. 

There burns a truer light of God in them, 

In their vexed, beating, stuffed and stopped-up brain, 

Heart, or whate'er else, than goes on to prompt 

This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine. 

Yonder 's a work now, of that famous youth 

The Urbinate who died five years ago. 

('T is copied, George Vasari sent it me.) 

Well, I can fancy how he did it all, 

Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see, 

Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him, 

Above and through his art for it gives way ; 

That arm is wrongly put and there again 

A fault to pardon in the drawing's lines, 

Its body, so to speak : its soul is right, 

He means right that, a child may understand. 

Still, what an arm ! and I could alter it : 

But all the play, the insight and the stretch 

Out of me, out of me ! 


In suggestive contrast to Andrea del Sarto stifling the 
promptings, " God and the glory ! never care for gain," 
and squandering his talents upon pelf and popularity, is 
Pictor Ignotus, who chose to worship his lofty but narrow 
ideal in poverty and obscurity, rather than lavish his 
genius on the vain world. " Nor will I say," Pictor 
Ignotus confesses, 

I have not dreamed (how well !) 

Of going I, in each new picture, forth, 
As, making new hearts beat and bosoms swell, 

To Pope or Kaiser, East, West, South, or North, 
Bound for the calmly satisfied great State, 

Or glad aspiring little burgh, it went, 
Flowers cast upon the car which bore the freight, 

Through old streets named afresh from the event, 
Till it reached home, where learned age should greet 

My face, and youth, the star not yet distinct 
Above his hair, lie learning at my feet ! 

Oh, thus to live, I and my picture, linked 
With love about, and praise, till life should end, 

And then not go to heaven, but linger here, 
Here on my earth, earth's every man my friend, 

The thought grew frightful, 't was so wildly dear ! 
But a voice changed it 

the voice of his soul proclaiming a lofty, austere ideal, 
that had nothing in common with the popular fancy : 

Wherefore I chose my portion. If at whiles 

My heart sinks, as monotonous I paint 
These endless cloisters and eternal aisles 

With the same series, Virgin, Babe, and Saint, 
With the same cold calm beautiful regard, 

At least no merchant traffics in my heart ; 
The sanctuary's gloom at least shall ward 

Vain tongues from where my pictures stand apart : 
Only prayer breaks the silence of the shrine 

While, blackening in the daily candle-smoke, 
They moulder on the damp wall's travertine, 

'Mid echoes the light footstep never woke. 
So, die my pictures ! surely, gently die ! 

youth, men praise so, holds their praise its worth? 
Blown harshly, keeps the trump its golden cry ? 

Tastes sweet the water with such specks of earth ? 


In Fra Lippo Lippi's earnest pleading there is revealed 
another important element in Browning's philosophy of 

Lippi, a waif, full of sensibility, his soul and sense 
sharpened by " the hunger pinch " to the keenest scrutiny 
of the world about him, is taken, at eight years of age, to a 
convent, where he shows such a decided propensity for 
painting that the Prior, despairing of doing anything else 
with this erratic little genius, bade him daub away : 

My head being crammed, the walls a blank, 
Never was such prompt disemburdeuing. 
First, every sort of monk, the black and white, 
I drew them, fat and lean : then, folk at church, 
From good old gossips waiting to confess 
Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends, 
To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot, 
Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there 
With the little children round him in a row 
Of admiration, half for his beard and half 
For that white auger of his victim's son 
Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm, 
Signing himself with the other because of Christ 
(Whose sad face on the cross sees only this 
After the passion of a thousand years) 
Till some poor girl, her apron o'er her head, 
(Which the intense eyes looked through) came at evo 
On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf, 
Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers 
(The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone. 
I painted all, then cried, " 'T is ask and have ; 
Choose, for more 'a ready ! " laid the ladder flat, 
And showed my covered bit of cloister-wall. 
The monks closed in a circle and praised loud 
Till checked, taught what to see and not to see, 
J Being simple bodies, " That 's the very man ! 
Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog ! 
That woman 's like the Prior's niece who comes 
To care about his asthma : it 's the life ! " 
But there my triumph's straw-fire flared and funked; 
Their betters took their turn to see and say : 
The Prior and the learned pulled a face 
And stopped all that in no time. " How ? what 's here ? 
Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all ! 


Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true 

As much as pea and pea! it 's devil's-game ! 

Your business is not to catch men with show, 

With homage to the perishable clay, 

But lift them over it, ignore it all, 

Make them forget there 's such a thing as flesh. 

Your business is to paint the souls of men 

Man's soul, and it 's a fire, smoke . . . no, it 's not . . . 

It 's vapour done up like a new-born babe 

(lu that shape when you die it leaves your mouth) 

It 's ... well, what matters talking, it 's the soul ! 

Give us no more of body than shows soul ! " 

The standard of art that the Prior held up was Jpp 
narrow for the broadening spirit of human development. 
The aim of the artist had been the^mere intelligible ex- 
pression of the theme, generally a theological one, which 
he was commissioned to treat. In his treatment he sup- 
pressed, so far as possible, his own individuality, and made 
his figures look as unworldly as possible. And so long as 
the ruling style of painting was allegorical, so long as 
symbols were much in vogue and theological fidelity was 
more highly esteemed in the painter than picturesque 
fidelity, no disunion was felt between theme, artist, and 
form ; these three were one. 

But when the Renaissance, i'ts__rich_ and varied 
culture, with its revelation of a new value in man and the 
world, began to stir the souL_ojL^an,_a significant change 
began. Pagan tradition teaching the value of this present 
world contended with monastic " other-worldliness " for 
the possession of the soul of man, beauty strove for 
supremacy with dogma, Art, conscious of her increasing 
power by reason of her improved technique, tried to serve 
two masters. She received her commissions from the 
church, professed fealty, but mingled pagan and Christian 
ideas in a way sweetly reasonable to herself, if to no one 
else, and bodied them forth in a manner which showed 
that her heart was with beauty rather than with dogma. 



That is a very suggestive question the Prior asks Fra 
Lippo Lippi : 

Here 's Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God, 
That sets us praising, why not stop with him ? 

Giotto had taken a long step in advance of the Prior's 
kleal. Giotto had little of the superstitious enthusiasm of 
his time, but much of the new love of nature. His themes, 
it is true, are much like those of his predecessors, but his 
style is not so formal and servile ; he employs natural 
incidents and forms; his composition has a depth and 
richness that is almost modern. Compared with Don 
Lorenzo Monaco or even with Fra Angelico, "that late 
blooming flower of an almost by-gone time amid the 
pulsations of a new life," Giotto was a realist. Accu- 
rately stated, Giotto was an idealist, with decided touches 
of realistic treatment: only such a painter could have 
given the great impulse Giotto did to the sculpture of the 
Renaissance. Indeed, the other old masters whom Brown- 
ing praises for their lofty ideal, Cimabue, Taddeo Gaddi, 
Sandro, the sculptor Nicolo the Pisan, and others, these 
artists, sensing the Renaissance love of beauty that was 
dawning upon the world, humanised this ideal and gave it 
sensuous charm. 

In the next great period of Italian art, the period 
ushered in by Fra Lippo Lippi, the artist was less fettered, 
he asserted his individuality more, and sought more ear- 
nestly for beauty in his forms. Luca Signorelli, for 
example, in his picture, The Madonna and Child, has 
painted in the background, instead of the customary 
shepherds, four nude figures, modeled in strong light and 
shade. This painting symbolises the character of that 
period ; it shows how the Renaissance, though in outward 
conformity to the church, was luring art to the worship 
of beauty. What Signorelli painted, Fra Lippo Lippi 
voiced in his answer to the Prior's dictum, " Paint no 
more of body than shows soul." He argues : 


Why can't a painter lift each foot in turn, 

Left foot and right foot, go a double step, 

Make his flesh liker and his soul more like, 

Both in their order? Take the prettiest face, 

The Prior's niece . . . patron-saint is it so pretty 

You can't discover if it means hope, fear, 

Sorrow or joy? won't beauty go with these ? 

Suppose I 've made her eyes all right and blue, 

Cau't I take breath and try to add life's flash, 

And then add soul and heighten them threefold? 

Or say there 's beauty with no soul at all 

(I never saw it put the case the same ) 

If you get simple beauty and naught else, 

You get about the best thing God invents : 

That 's somewhat : and you '11 find the soul you have missed, 

Within yourself, when you return him thanks. 

You be judge ! 

You speak no Latin more than I, belike ; 
However, you 're my man, you 've seen the world 

The beauty and the wonder and the power, 

The shapes of things, their colours, lights, and shades, 
Changes, surprises, and God made it all ! 

For what ? Do you feel thankful, ay or no, 
For this fair town's face, yonder river's line, 
The mountain round it and the sky above, 
Much more the figures of man, woman, child, 
These are the frame to ? What 's it all about ? 
To be passed over, despised ? or dwelt upon, 
Wondered at ? oh, this last of course ! you say. 
But why not do as well as say, paint these 
Just as they are, careless what comes of it ? 
God's works paint any one, and count it crime 
To let a truth slip. 

This world 's no blot for us, 
Nor blank ; it means intensely, and means good: 
To find its meaning is my meat and drink. 

The gist of Lippi's speech is well expressed in Mrs. 
Browning's ' Aurora Leigh.' " Paint a body well, you paint 
a soul by implication, like the grand first Master." 

Browning's distinction of objective and subjective poet 
in his ' Essay on Shelley ' throws so much light not only 


upon Lippi's speech but upon his philosophy of art, that it 
may well conclude this paper. 

" The objective poet," says Browning, " is one whose 
endeavour has been to reproduce things external (whether 
the ..phenomena of the scenic universe, or the manifested 
action of the human heart and brain) with an immediate 
reference, in every case, to the common eye and appre- 
hension of his fellow-men, assumed capable of receiving 
and profiting by this reproduction. It has been obtained 
through the poet's double faculty of seeing external objects 
more clearly, widely, and deeply, than is possible to the 
average mind, at the same time that he is so acquainted 
and in sympathy with its narrow comprehension as to be 
careful to supply it with no other materials than it can 
combine into an intelligible whole." This is precisely the 
endeavour and method of Fra Lippo Lippi. His saints are 
of our common humanity ; his angels are " like great, high- 
spirited boys." His figures are drawn with such human 
feeling and grouped with such dramatic vividness that 
they easily charm the observer. 

On the other hand, " the subjective poet is impelled to 
embody the thing he perceives, not as much with reference 
to the many below, as to the One above him, the supreme 
Intelligence who apprehends all things in their absolute 
truth, an ultimate view ever aspired to, if but partially 
attained by the poet's own soul. Not what man sees, but 
what God sees the Ideas of Plato, seeds of creation 
lying burningly on the Divine Hand it is towards these 
that he struggles. Not with the combination of humanity 
in action, but Avith the primal elements of humanity he 
has to do ; and he digs where he stands, preferring to seek 
them in his own soul, as the nearest reflex of that absolute 
Mind according to the intuitions of which he desires to 
perceive and speak." 

This characterisation is just as true of the subjective 
painter, it contains the essential principle of Fra 


Angelico's art and, in general, that of the Old Masters of 
Florence whom Browning praises. 

The subjective and the objective poet may be combined 
in one person ; I believe that they were in Robert Brown- 
ing ; similarly the subjective and the objective artist were 
one in Raphael. And I come to the conclusion of this 
paper with the strong desire that Browning had written 
one more art poem, exemplifying how the idealism of the 
Old Painters of Florence and the realism of Andrea del 
Sarto, each alike one-sided and struggling for supremacy 
in Fra Lippo Lippi, became one in Raphael, a full-orbed 
artist, making the ideal appear more real and the real more 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, March 22, 1892.] 

TJEIIS is a song of exultation, the glad outburst of man's 
spirit at the new dawn that is breaking forth after the 
night of the Middle Ages, and which of us would not 
rejoice could a new morn arise on the night of his spiritual 
Middle Ages, a dawn not merely in outward nature, that 
spiritual symbol which is offered to us daily and daily re- 
peated, but in man's hopes and aspirations ? 

Look out if yonder be not day again 
Rimming the rock-row ! 

The lofty peaks of intellect are the first to catch the 
sparkle, yet how gladly the chosen band, his followers, 
welcome the glow, as they climb the heights whither the 
glory draws them, though 

With [their] master, famous calm and dead 
Borne on [their] shoulders, 

his work not ended, but shown forth, revealed in their 
glad ascension. " And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all 
men unto me," said One, with whom, at times, at least, we 
feel somewhat akin. For it is a hero whose life is here 
extolled ; one who spent a life in searching for truth, who 
would lead men from the low level of their lives " up to 
the morning." 


What of his life ? He was 

Born with thy face and throat, 
Lyric Apollo, 

and to know what that means, look at the cast of that 
Apollo, lyre in hand, in our Museum of Fine Arts as he 
steps forward in the full flush of youthful beauty then 
"lo, the little touch, and youth was gone." But when 
youth was gone, and play was left behind, " straightway 
he gowned him," and he did not give up his task even 
when old age, baldness and blindness came upon him, 
when " Calculus racked him " and " tussis attacked him." 
"That's the world's way." "Prate not," he said, "of 
most and least, painful and easy ; " and, when friends, en- 
treating, said, " But time escapes ! Live now or never," 
he replied, 

What 's time ? Leave Now for dogs and apes ! 
Man has Forever. 

Had this man done great things ? Judged by common 
standards, he had not; but yet great if we look at the 
quality, the thoroughness of his work. Life was, this life, 
for him, as for all of us, only a beginning ; whatever is to 
be done, it were best to have it well done. He settled the 
meaning and the doctrine, say, of three Greek particles, at 
which some smile ; but, as Browning informs us, this was 
" Shortly after the Revival of Learning in Europe," which 
was itself an important phase of the Renaissance, which, 
also, was one of the most important epochs in the history 
of the race. That revival started with the dispersion 
throughout southern Europe of Greek scholars who fled 
from Constantinople in the middle of the fifteenth century, 
who carried with them in their flight Greek texts which 
had been carefully copied : with their help attention was 
turned anew to the study of Greek authors, and was it not 
important that this revival of learning should, at its very 
beginning, be characterised by thoroughness and exactness ? 


I remember hearing Agassiz, in the zenith of his reputa- 
tion, say, that should he die then, his contribution to the 
world's stock of original knowledge could be fully ex- 
pressed in two lines of ordinary length. Granting that 
this very modest estimate were true, still we should feel 
constrained to add it would take many more lines than 
two, to set forth the .impetus given by Agassiz tCLthe .tudy 
of Natural History in this country. 

But a word about the importance of those little Greek 
terms. Turn to Liddell and Scott's lexicon of nearly 
eighteen hundred pages. Its editors call particular atten- 
tion, in their preface, to the articles written by Professors 
Goodwin and Gildersleeve on particles no more important 
than on, ovv and Se, though no one of these three is there 

One may have, I suppose, a too great fondness for the 
study of words, and too great interest in them. They are . 
used for a day, it may be, for years, or for centuries, and 
then thrown aside, unheeded and forgotten. They lie 
buried by thousands along the path of man's progress, im- 
bedded in the layers of various languages, spoken or 
unspoken, at the present time, in countries all the way 
from the Caspian Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, like broken 
shells and cast up sea-weed on the shores of time. Still 
they have a wondrous vitality, or their roots at least have, 
and they often surprise us by a survival, or a fresh growth, 
when we least expect it. Pick out one of these roots, 
generally represented by three or four letters at the most, 
but whose hold on life far outlasts that of the grain which, 
some say, has sprouted, after it has lain for centuries in 
the tombs of Egyptian mummies. 

Take from one of the large dictionaries the root Steg. or 
Teg. See how it keeps about the same form in language 
after language, in Sanskrit, Lithuanian, Latin, Greek, 
Old Norse, Old High German, Anglo Saxon, and Scotch, 
and at last gives us in English thatch, deck, and tile, all of 


which contain teg, whose meaning is cover. Were these 
roots something of man's invention? It hardly seems 
possible, but if so, perhaps the most wonderful of all his 
inventions. At Nineveh, Troy, and Rome slabs and frag- 
ments are unearthed with which to fill our museums ; but 
in age, persistence, significance and interest, verbal roots 
would seem to surpass them. 

The spirit that animated the Grammarian, his absorp- 
tion in intellectual pursuits, the tenacity with which he 
adhered to his purpose, the thoroughness with which . his 
work was done, the superiority of his mind over earthly 
limitations and finiteness furnish a fitting explanation of 
his followers' admiration for him. A triumphant justifica- 
tion of his life also is furnished by this proud funeral 
procession, such an one as no dead Csesar was ever honoured 

Examine the vocabulary of the first thirty-six and of the 
last sixteen lines of this rjoem. You will find them, I 
think, to be peculiarly choice and vigorous, and well fitted, 
in conjunction with the phrases in which they are im- 
. bedded, with the rhymes and the rhythm that float them 
along, to portray the fine enthusiasm that pervades the 
lines. . 

In the remaining portions, wherein is described the old 
man's appearance, whose form lacked aught that could 
attract the eye, the words and the style take on an archaic 
touch in harmony with the change in the theme. 

We can imagine a Philistine, if such ever deigns to read 
this little piece, exulting while he reads the seemingly 
grotesque account of this " wretched old fellow," as he 
would call the Grammarian, and jeering at the strange 
subject of the poem, dressed as it is in this uncouth array ; 
but the grotesqueness will be found to reside chiefly in 
the critic's own conceit, and the laugh will at last be 
turned upon himself. 

We remember also that it was said of One long ago, 


" There is no beauty that we should desire him," " and we 
hid, as it were, our faces from him." 

In Browning's eagerness to emphasise the meaning of 
this poem, to make it so clear to us that we cannot mistake 
it, he quickly passes by the Grammarian's youth, and pre- 
sents him to us old, bald, blear-eyed and stooping, racked 
by a cough also, in order to bring out more clearly the 
temper of the man, his tenacity of purpose and his spiritu- 
ality, a man who would admit of no coddling and would 
make no complaints, but left to God the 

Task to make the heavenly period 
Perfect the eartheu. 

When, pray, if not in old age, should mind rise above all 
ills and pains, and give us some hint, at least, of its divine 
origin ? Have not two l rare souls, who had ministered to 
us before this Society, passed away this winter? And 
when had their mental activity and spirituality shown to 
greater advantage than just before their departure ? 

Did I say " a song of exultation ? " Now that I look 
again, I see it is headed 'The Grammarian's Funeral.' 
Was I mistaken then in naming it as I did? I think 
not ; for throughout the poem there rings a note of glad- 
ness, of triumph. How different this from the famous 
dirges of classic or of modern times, from Moschus on 
Bion, Virgil's Tenth Eclogue, Milton's 'Lycidas,' Emer- 
son's ' Threnody ' and Shelley's 'Adonais.' In all these, 
inasmuch as a dear friend taken away by death is the 
theme, grief at the separation, daily converse with a be- 
loved one suddenly broken off, personal loss (and who 
can but sympathise with the mourners) is the point chiefly 
dwelt upon ; but nothing of this sort is to be found in the 
poem we are considering ; rather joy is expressed that a 
man has lived amongst us. Its spirit differs in this from 
Gray's ' Elegy ' - - just as if we were telling a friend 

1 C. P. Cranch, artist and poet ; Rev. C. C. Shackford. 


how some delightful stranger had sojourned with us for 
a. while and graced our home and neighbourhood by his 

Well, perhaps Browning in this has given us a hint how 
to speak of departed friends, and that in a more appro- 
priate way than we are wont. Whether a life is to be 
adjudged a failure or a success, depends on the standard 
with which it is compared, and the decision, when an- 
nounced, commends or condemns the judge, for it shows 
what manner of man he is. An ideal standard is one 
that aims at perfection ; in pursuit of that ultimate goal 
through a life, while there may be constant failure of gain- 
ing the end, there will be no failure in the life. What 
explanation is there of our life, except that we are here for 
our development, for our increase in love and in knowl- 
edge ; and how can that be gained except through effort, 
through repeated failure and through trying again, our 
souls " hydroptic with a sacred thirst " for farther draughts 
of what alone can refresh but can never sate us ? 

In one of the earliest and most precious of his poems, 
Browning traces out for us the career of one whose ab- 
sorbing passion was to know. Paracelsus tells us that 
his aim was 

to comprehend. the works of God, 
And God himself, and all God's intercourse 
With the human mind. 

Connected with this aspiration there was, at first, a sub- 
lime faith in the possibility of ultimate triumph, that 
he, Paracelsus, man's exemplar, could arrive at truth : 

I go to prove my soul ! 
I shall arrive ! what time, what circuit first, 
I ask not. . . . 
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive. 

His failure, if failure it was, arose from his lack of love for 
the average man, a common vice of intellectual men. He 
"saw no good in ' men,' " he could not 


sympathise, be proud 

Of their half reasonings, faint aspirings, dim 
Struggles for truth. 

In ' Thie_ Grammarian's^ Funeral/ the same theme^ the 
pursuit of truth despite obstacles, is treated again ; but 
there is~tnts^dift"erence, as you gather from the villagers' 
love for and pride in the Grammarian that he loved all of 
them, that he spent his life for them. 

Browning is unfaltering in his conviction that love is 
the one important thing in the world 1 the primal "fact in 
the lives oi all men. Poem after poem he gives us, show- 
ing love's many phases and its subtle power over us for 
weal or for woe. 

In t _Childe__ Roland ' there is portrayed an indomitable 
will that "keeps the wanderer steadfast to his purpose. 
Whatever may be the "explanation," so called, of this 
poem, it is plain that a determination to search for one 
object until it is found forms the core of this Search for 
the_ Holy Grail, a search continued, despite rebuffs and 
disappointments, through long years and weary wander- 
ings, undeterred by malicious leers and weird sights in sky 
and on land, and, just as all the comrades of his earlier 
years had gathered around him expecting to see him suc- 
cumb at last, even as all they had done before him, it ends 
with a burst of triumph as he put the slug-horn to his lips 
and pealed forth his exulting cry. 

The key-note to this poem is man's desire to arrive at 
truth, and faith in his capacity to attain_it. Nowhere, 
perhaps, has Browning stated this faith of his more clearly 
than in this poem. 'T is his search for truth, though it be 
but elemental truth, his determination to know what he 
does know thoroughly and for that to spare no labour nor 
pains, that makes The Grammarian the admiration of his 
people. This poem means, in every line of it, that man 
can arrive at truth. In * The Statue and The Bust * 
weakness of will makes a failure of two lives. 


So much for Browning's attitude towards Love and 
Will and, in his earlier years, towards Knowledge. But 
later in life his accent becomes uncertain if not despondent 
with reference to man's power to arrive at truth; this 
weakness is shown, so far as I have observed, in the poems 
written in his old age. 

In ' La Saisiaz,' he says : 

Knowledge stands on my experience ; all outside its narrow hem 
Free surmise and sport may welcome. 

In ' A Pillar at Sebzevar ' : 

Knowledge doubt 
Even wherein it seems demonstrable. 

We are 

sure that pleasure is, 
While knowledge may be, at the most. 

In ' Francis Furini : ' 

Of power does man possess no particle ; 

Of knowledge just as much as shows that still 

It ends in ignorance on every side. 

And he concludes with this sentence, " Ignorance exists." 
But to return to the topic from which we have made a 
somewhat long digression, whether success in life is to 
be measured by achievement rather than by aim, and the 
way to look upon failure when it comes. If you want 
Browning as an authority on this subject, read ' The Last 
Ride Together.' Or read in the poem now under con- 
sideration : 

That low man seeks a little thing to do, 

Sees it and does it : 
This high man with a great thing to pursue, 

Dies ere he knows it. 
That low man goes on adding one to one, 

His hundred 's soon hit : 
This high man, aiming at a million, 

Misses an unit. 

Let not defeat abash us. Recall Goethe's advice, waste 
not your time in remorse, but spend it in action. Long- 
fellow has it : 


Let the dead past bury its dead : 
Act, act in the living present. 

A good old hymn renders it : 

Forget the steps already trod 
And onward urge thy way. 

Tennyson voices it, 

I hold it truth . . . 

That men tuay rise on stepping stones 

Of their dead selves to higher things. 

Turn we now to the question, what shall the standard 
be ? Consider this one, " Be ye therefore perfect, even 
as your father which is in heaven is perfect." How ideal 
is that standard ! It seems too exalted to propose to mor- 
tals, and would be so, were it not implied that there is 
happiness in strivings towards it. It is very far off indeed, 
" For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are 
my ways than your ways, and my thoughts than ycur 

Leibnitz likened the approach of the asymptote to its 
curve, which it always approaches but never reaches, to 
the approach of the human soul to God. 

Pity the man who at the close of life can say, " I have 
done all that I intended to do." His ideal cannot be high 
"who tully attains it. Browning says, " A man's reach should 
exceed his grasp." Paracelsus is an instance of one who 
failed, but like Phaethon, child of the Sun, if he failed, he 
failed in a great undertaking. Does it not often happen 
that men, in their failures, accomplish more than they had 
proposed to do ? the result not just the same as they had 
striven for, but far greater? Columbus did not discover a 
West India, such as he supposed, but a continent, wholly 
unknown before. On many a field, ethical, religious, 
philosophical, the leader of a forlorn hope wins unex- 
pectedly, and when his confreres even are dreading his 
discomfiture, they hear of a sudden his shout, " Childe 
Roland to the Dark Tower came." 


But what effect is produced on a soul that nurses a lofty 
ideal ? Often it is made aware, as of necessity it must be, 
that the span of life is short and that numberless obstacles 
are interposed to its plans, when it would 

task for mankind's good 
Its nature, just as life and time accord. 

Some give up their attempts in despair of aught ever 
being accomplished ; Browning, in ' Bordello,' gives us 
their estimate of life, 

Too narrow an arena to reward 
Emprise the world's occasion worthless 
Since not absolutely fitted to evince 
Its [the soul's] mastery. 

The impatience of reformers with the obstacles they 
encounter, and with the weaknesses and perversities of 
their fellow men, but expose their own limitations they 
imagine that they should at once get important and far- 
reaching results ; w r hat they conceive of as a good, they 
would have realised at the moment ; they would have a 
new creation, then, not an evolution : but that is not the 
way man progresses. God has borne with the wayward 
and perverse souls of men for many, many generations 
are the reformers better than he ? " Why so hot, little 
man ? " asks Emerson. Every step in man's ascent is to 
be wrought out ; otherwise would it not be worthless when 
gained ? 

Other souls again are wrought up to try to do what is 
beyond man's power ; to quote again from ' Sordello : ' 

Or if yet worse befall, 
And a desire possess it [the soul] to put all 
That nature forth, forcing our straitened sphere 
Contain it, to display completely here 
The mastery another life should learn, 
Thrusting on time eternity's concern. 

Xow to neither of the two classes just mentioned, to those 
who are hopeless of doing aught in this life, nor to those 


who would thrust too much upon it, did the Grammarian 
belong ; he did all he could ; he settled the meaning of 
three Greek particles, if you please, but he did that well ; 
moreover, he did not bemoan his sad fate, as many would 
have done, while his work, his thoroughness, persistence 
and enthusiasm, all together, were a priceless boon to his 

But why all this talk ? Is not all that can be said on 
our topic, and more, to be found expressed in ' The Gram- 
marian's Funeral,' clothed in great beauty too ? It seems 
almost brutal to pick it to pieces, and as with the botanist 
and his flower, to be justified only if it shall be better 
appreciated afterwards. 

Let me say, here, that Browning has portrayed for us in 
the Grammarian, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Saul, in Caponsacchi 
and Pompilia, characters of richer ethical value, of finer 
and intenser spiritual fibre, than any that Shakespeare ever 
dreamed of. 

The stage on which Shakespeare displayed his person- 
ages was, for the most part, an external one, appealing to 
the mind largely through eye and ear ; Browning's pres- 
entations are mainly internal and spiritual, wrought out 
on an invisible stage, whose conflicts are far sharper and 
their issues freighted with subtler significance. 

Not for naught have three centuries elapsed since 
Shakespeare's time : the world's ideals are loftier now 
than then. 

The growing drama has outgrown such toys 
Of simulated stature, face and speech. 

It also may 

Take for a worthier stage the soul itself, 
Its shifting fancies and celestial lights. 

Aurora Leigh ; Bk. V. 

As in * La Sasiaz,' ' Pippa Passes,' and ' The English- 
man in Italy,' so here, nature is brought in, in full sym- 
pathy with the human element, responsive to it, and 


showing, as ever, noble and beautiful just in proportion to 
the nobleness and beauty in the soul that contemplates it. 
How exquisite the lines : 

Sleep, crop and herd ! sleep, darkling thorpe and croft, 
Safe from the weather ! 

or these : 

Here here 'a his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form, 

Lightnings are loosened, 
Stars come and go ! 

Their lyric beauty is wonderful. 

What had gained for the Grammarian the love of his 
people, whom we see convoying him aloft? I have said 
before, it was the glad conviction that he was their leader 
up to a higher level than before of thought and of 

Our low life was the level's and the night's; 
He 's for the morning. 

And when they get up to that famous peak where sparkles 
the citadel " circling its summit," they said, " Here 's his 
place," and left him there 

loftily lying 

still loftier than the world suspects 
Living and dying. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, May 24, 1892.] 

PKUDENCE is a popular virtue. Caution is a grace much 
commended. Sagacity seems to win. Experience is a 
much travelled road that leads to prosperity. The practi- 
cal experience of life seems to demand that the cost of 
every act be counted before it is perpetrated. It is ap- 
parently the province of the rational soul to calculate 
consequences and to shape its conduct thereby. These 
considerations are apparently growing more and more 
imperative. The unreliability of any other standard of 
conduct is being more and more confidently asserted. It 
is a matter of daily demonstration. The passions are often 
shown to be blind, the instincts treacherous, our impulses 
not trustworthy, while conscience itself often lands us, 
as it has landed so many brave souls of history, on the 
wrong side of many an issue. There is nothing more 
pathetic in the history of the race than the tragic story 
of right men, in wrong places, noble souls unwittingly 
lending themselves to ignoble ends. To go outside of 
ourselves, the absolute dicta of bible, church, or state have 
been proven, over and over again, inadequate and inac- 
curate. The verdict of experience as well as philoso- 
phy points to the fallibility of the so-claimed infallible 

And still, there is that which seems to be higher than 
expediency. We are compelled to recognise a force more 


imperative than prudential considerations. We are haunted 
by the suspicion that there is a reason more commanding 
than any of our reasonings. There is in character that 
which is swifter than logic, more imperial than prudence. 
There seems to be a call in the human soul more funda- 
mental and compelling than any arguments that the judg- 
ment can produce at any given time for or against a given 
course of action. 

These distinctions bring before our minds two types of 
character, or, at least, two standards of conduct, two differ- 
ing habits of soul. The first takes time, considers, re- 
considers, experiments with itself, halts, trims, and then 
acts. This calculating soul must deliberately count the 
cost before it makes the investment of will and conscience. 
It asks to see the end before it begins. By it, instinct, 
impulse, intuition, call it what you please, is held in leash 
by policy, expediency, or that balancing of probabilities 
which he calls judgments. The other feels, sees, and 
unhesitatingly throws its destiny along the line of vision. 
It is indifferent to results. It acts regardless of conse- 
quences. Its only quest is loyalty to the vision given, 
and "with God be the rest." The uncalculating soul 
trusts the totality of being, that synthesis of life which 
constitutes the whole man. The conscience strikes twelve, 
not because this moment it has measured the angle of 
the sun, but because that inner mechanism of his being, 
the adjusted clock-work of the soul, pronounces it the 
moment of high noon. 

No poet of modern times has penetrated more deeply 
the mysteries of the human soul than Robert Browning. 
His voluminous works may well be studied as a cyclopaedia 
of motives. Conduct, both inner and outer, high and low, 
good and bad, of men and women, of old and young, he 
has studied, analysed, illustrated, and exemplified. To 
him then we will go for illustrations of the calculating 
and the uncalculating souls. 


What a gallery he has given us of the calculating type, 
worldly-wise men and women, plotters and schemers, halt- 
ing calculators, wise in their caution and cautious of their 
wisdom ! So just has he been to their method, so true to 
their processes, that each in his turn almost persuades us. 
We find ourselves standing on their shaky planks of ex- 
pediency. We are caught in the toils of their logic, and 
with them we attempt to vacate our intuitions, to split 
our promptings, to check our impulses, hoping thereby to 
arrive at safer results, and larger successes ; or, if we our- 
selves escape capture,~we are haunted with the suspicion 
that our author is at least on their side. 

Turn the pages of Robert Browning and find the char- 
acters whose motto and method are well represented by 
the answer of Sparta to the Athenian runner, who burst 
upon them with the message, " Persia has come, Athens 
asks aid ! " 

Nowise precipitate judgment too weighty the issue at stake ! 
Athens must wait, patient as we who judgment suspend. 

In such a quest we find the accomplished Duke, who 
"gave commands," and "all smiles stopped together;" 
Djabal, the Druse prophet, trying to do the Lord's work 
with European tricks ; Ogniben, the papal legate, carrying 
the politician's scheme into the service of the church ; 
Blougram, clothing the logic of expediency with Episcopal 
robes ; Sludge, the medium, trying to make whole truths 
out of half truths ; Prince Hohenstiel Schwangau seeking 
to justify a crown with the arguments of " They all do 
it," and " You are another ; " Domizia, a plotting woman, 
and poor weak conscience, may heaven forgive her ! 
a scheming bride ; to say nothing of the towering villain 
Guido in ' The Ring and the Book ; ' and the most intoler- 
able rascal in all literature, the old man in the ' Inn Al- 
bum.' The only flash of decency in his whole career is 
when he forgets to calculate and loses himself for a 


moment in a wholesome burst of uncalculating love for the 
older woman when he meets her after the lapse of years. 

Let us try to study this problem by a little closer grasp 
of some one character rather than an analysis of the 
many stories that would lend themselves to such purpose. 
Faenza, in the sixteenth century, as described in ' A Soul's 
Tragedy,' was a little dependent suburb of Ravenna, 
which, in turn, was governed by Rome. Into this town 
was born Chiappino. His was a soul sensitive " to the 
shadows," and he lost both his rank and his wealth 
through his persistent espousal of unpopular causes. He 
was a man accustomed to say, " You sin," " when a man 
did sin," and when he could not say it, he " glared it at 
him." When he could not glare it, he " prayed against 
him." When thus his part seemed over, he left it, trust- 
ing God's part might begin. His youth was full of alert 
discontent. He felt the people's wrongs as his own. He 
aspired to heaven but did not dare hope for it " without 
a reverent pause," growing less unfit for it. His prayer 
was for truth; his sympathies were for mankind. In 
their interest he resented " each shrug and smirk " and 
" beck and bend " that outraged their rights. This zeal 
for high causes gave him' vision to see and courage to say 

I trust in nature for the stable laws 

Of beaiity and utility. Spring shall plant, 

And Autumn garner to the end of time : 

I trust in God the right shall be the right 

And other than the wrong, while he endures : 

I trust in my own soul, that can perceive 

The outward and the inward, nature's good 

And God's : so, seeing these men and myself, 

Having a right to speak, thus do I speak. 

I '11 not curse God bears with them, well may I 

But I protest against their claiming me. 

I simply say, if that's allowable, 

I would not (broadly) do as they have done. 

God curse this townfnl of born slaves, bred slaves, 

Branded into the blood and bone, slaves ! Curse, 

Whoever loves, above his liberty, 

House, land or life ! 


Of course this brought him to a homeless, friendless, 
penniless condition, a proscribed and exiled wretch; but 
he had a friend who had grown up with him, one born 
for the sunshine as Chiappino was for the shadow. He 
was a 

Friend-making, everywhere friend-finding soul, 

Fit for the sunshine, so, it followed him. 

A happy-tempered bringer of the best 

Out of the worst ; who bears with what 's past cure, 

And puts so good a face on 't wisely passive 

Where action 's fruitless, while he remedies 

In silence what the foolish rail against ; 

A man to smooth such natures as parade 

Of opposition must exasperate ; 

No general gauntlet-gatherer for the weak 

Against the strong, yet over-scrupulous 

At lucky junctures ; one who won't forego 

The after-battle work of binding wounds, 

Because, forsooth he 'd have to bring himself 

To side with wound-inflictors for their leave ! 

Luitolfo made friends as Chiappino lost them. He wooed 
and won the fair Eulalia, whom his gruff companion had 
also loved; but, owing to the many kindnesses received 
from him by his rival, he had never pressed his suit. At 
last this grim speaker of uncomfortable truths is to be 
banished. His sunny friend hastens to the Provost to 
intercede. While the successful suitor is at court, the 
unhappy youth, who, thus far, has been loyal to the inner 
vision, breaks down, becomes petulant, ungrateful. Ere 
he departs for his loveless exile, he whines his belated 
love into the ears of one who is betrothed. At this junc- 
ture, his friend breaks upon them in blood-stained garments 
with an imaginary mob at his heels. Luitolfo had lost his 
temper, struck, and, as he supposed, killed the Provost. 
Chiappino rises to the occasion as he promptly declares 

As God lives, I go straight 

To the palace and do justice, once for all ! 

He wraps his friend in his own disguise, points to him the 
way of escape, thrusts him out, and turns to meet the mob 


coming up the steps with " I killed the Provost ! " But 
the rabble were seeking their hero, not bent on vengeance. 
They wanted to honour him who had shattered their chains. 
They greeted their liberator. One exclaimed, for many, 

He who first made us feel what chains we wore. 

Another retorted, 

Oh, have you only courage to speak now 1 
My eldest son was christened a year since 
" Cino " to keep Chiappino's name in mind 
Cino, for shortness merely, you observe. 

All exclaimed, 

The city 's in our hands. The guards are fled. 
Do you, the cause of all, come down come up 
Come out to counsel us, our chief, our king, 
Whate'er rewards you ! Choose your own reward ! 
The peril over, its reward hegins ! 
Come and harangue us in the market-place ! 

And lo, he who could defy the prison, live in familiar 
intimacy with adversity, die like a hero, fell before the 
temptations of success. The truth which, under the above 
circumstances, he told with painful promptness, he now 
withholds. He begins to weigh, to calculate. 

To-morrow, rather, when a calm succeeds, 

the prophetic soul of Eulalia anticipates the end of the 
sorry bargain and says, 

You would, for worlds, you had denied at once. 

Thus ends the poetry of Chiappino's life. The remain- 
der of the story is told in painful prose. We see halting 
attempts on the part of conscience to erect itself without 
losing a good chance. He begins to distrust straight lines, 
goes around in order to get there the sooner. This tangle 
is increased by the Pope's legate, one Ogniben, a Bishop 
Blougram written small, an ecclesiastic of the " good-Lord, 
good-devil" kind, as his name might indicate. This 
pious functionary rode into town upon his mule the morn- 


ing after the uprising, saying, "I have seen three-and- 
twenty leaders of revolts." In the presence of what seemed 
a great opportunity, Chiappino abandoned the principle of 
democracy, which had been the thought of his life, ignored 
the love of Eulalia, which had been the strength of his 
heart, and violated the friendship of Luitolfo, which had 
been his shield and protection. The callow prophet had 
been strangled by the oily rope of the politician. As his 
perjured and dishonoured form vanished through the north 
gate, Ogniben, the unctuous, could say, " Good-by to you 
. , . now give thanks to God, the keys of the Provost's 
palace to me, and yourselves to profitable meditation at 
home ! I have known .FWr-and-twenty leaders of revolts." 
The first and easy lesson of this story is that which 
flashed through the mind of Eulalia as she was waiting 
the approach of the mob which she supposed was coming 
to destroy her. 

But even I perceive 
T is not a very hard thing so to die. 
My cousin of the pale-blue tearful eyes, 
Poor Cesca, suffers more from one day's life 
With the stern husband ; Tisbe's heart goes forth 
Each evening after that wild son of hers, 
To track his thoughtless footstep through the streets : 
How easy for them both to die like this ! 
I am not sure that I could live as they. 

There is never a scarcity of men who are willing to die 
for their country, always a scarcity of men who are ready 
to pay honest taxes and vote independently for their 

But my present use of the story is to rescue the poetry 
of Chiappino's life from contempt. Prophets are so scarce 
that we should be thankful for fragmentary ones. So 
given are men to temporise, God be thanked for those who 
try to eternise, though eventually they should falter and 
halt. Chiappino's youth placed him among the malcon- 
tents, the uncomfortable, disagreeable class with which the 


world finds it hard to get along, but without which the 
world would cease to get along altogether. History proves 
that God has high uses for those whom men can hardly 
use. He likes those whom we sorely dislike. Disappoint- 
ing as was the life of Chiappino, still with our poet we 
should say, 

Better have failed in the high aim 
Than vulgarly in the low aim succeed. 

It is hard to draw the line between the prophet and the 
mountebank. The idealist exposes himself to great dan- 
gers. Not abating one jot of the shame he brought him- 
self, we find in Chiappino's character that which is related 
to things most excellent. It was well for those of Faenza 
that Chiappino gave to them the poetry of his life. He 
showed them the chains they wore. He, more than Ogniben 
or Luitolfo, was the forerunner of Kossuth and his com- 
patriots, and the still greater one, yet to come, who will lift 
Italy into the freedom they dreamed of. He who sees the 
difference between things as they are and things as they 
ought to be and dares declare the difference regardless of 
consequences, belongs to that line .of prophets who are 
God's interpreters on earth. Through these do his bless- 
ings go down the ages. While Chiappino's life was 
genuine, it was splendid, though disagreeable. We will 
not sneer at him, but mourn over his downfall. Browning 
calls it a " soul's tragedy." Dante defines a tragedy as " the 
bad ending of a good beginning." Oh, the pathos of a broken 
ideal ! What pity we ought to have for a demoralised life ! 
Shall we shudder at a mangled limb and scoff at a baffled 
soul? Chiappino is an acquaintance of yours and mine. 
Have we not had occasion to watch the disintegration of an 
ideal life in a young man or woman ? See that boy, a very 
Childe Galahad, girding himself for the quest of the Holy 
Grail, breath unsullied, lips unstained by impure words, heart 
unsmirohed by hatred. Twenty years later, note that same 
youth with breath laden with the impurities of cup and 


pipe, lips familiar with words not to be spoken in the 
mother's presence. What a fall is here ! All the more 
tragic if the plottings began in the interest of heaven, not 
hell. There is no degeneracy more demoralising than that 
which induces men like Chiappino to plot for God's cause, 
to be dishonest in the interest of righteousness, to lie " for 
Christ's sake," to scheme and compromise in the interest 
of progress and . humanity. How sad is the depravity of 
the minister of religion who splits his utterances lest they 
be too well understood ; who obscures the vision lest it 
throw too much light on the subject, and the collections be 
marred. Chiappino fell when he began to calculate for 
success, to buy efficiency. We will not reproach his dream- 
ing. We will regret rather his waking. Through the 
cracks of the cranky life of Elias Butterworth ('A Minor 
Prophet'), George Eliot saw that something higher and 
finer than the calculating soul which prefers the near suc- 
cess and the far defeat to the near defeat and the far 

No tears are sadder than the smile 
With which I quit Elias. Bitterly 
I feel that every change upon this earth 
Is brought with sacrifice. . . . 
Even our failures are a prophecy, 
Even our yearnings and our bitter tears 
After that fair and true we cannot grasp ; 
As patriots who seem to die in vain 
Make liberty more sacred by their pangs. 

Presentiment of better things on earth 

Sweeps in with every force that stirs our souls 

To admiration, self-renouncing love, 

Or thoughts, like light, that bind the world in one. 

For the fuller assurance that Browning was in sympathy 
with the uncalculating soul, the soul that is in league with 
the unmeasured impulses and the undivided promptings of 
the human heart, let us take a glimpse of that other gallery 
of his, of unsophisticated men and women, those of whom 
the hero at Marathon, who " ploughed for ;Greece all day " 


with his plough-share, and then went home at night, forget- 
ting to leave his name behind, may serve as type. Phei- 
dippides, the runner, who ends his race with " Athens is 
saved," and u dies in the shout for his meed ; " Ned Bra'tts 
and Tabby, his wife, that pair of " sinner saints," who, 
moved by John Bunyan's book, brought their load to the 
foot of the scaffold, relieved the burdened heart by con- 
fession, and then, because " Light 's left, " Ned begged, 
" Make but haste to hang us both ! " " while Tab, along- 
side, wheezed a hoarse, " Do hang us, please ! " So, " hap- 
pily hanged were they." 

How the list lengthens, the blue-eyed Breton ; the art- 
less Pippa ; the heavenly guarded Anael ; the ingenuous 
Luria, with his " own East how nearer to God we are ;" 
Valence, the unsophisticated advocate ; Colombe, who was 
first a woman and then a queen ; and the valiant Count 
who " used no slight of the sword," but " open-breasted 
drove " till u out the truth he clove." These persuade us that 
the rattling Pacchiarotto is wiser than the cold and fault- 
less painter, Andrea del Sarto, and that the irregular Fra 
Lippo is nearer to the truth and nearer to God than the 
halting Pictor Ignotus, that the gentle and unflinching 
Clara in the ' Red Cotton Night-cap Country ' was purer 
than Constance, though she must say, " Ere I found what 
honour meant, I lost mine ; " and we see that Miranda, the 
perplexed and unheroic hero of this book, was never less 
holy than when seeking holiness, " counting his sham 
beads* threaded on a lie." Rising on this ladder of souls, 
we at last take our place and march by the light of the 
undeflected flame that burns in the soul of Caponsacchi, 
the courtier monk, who stood " guiltless in thought, word, 
and deed " because he saw there was no " duty patent in 
the world like daring try be good and true " to himself. 
We dare affirm with the uncounting Pompilia that 

Through such souls alone 
God stooping, shows sufficient of his light 
For us i' the dark to rise by, 


and with the dear old Pope, we are glad to " know the 
right place by foot's feel," to take it and "tread firm 

Let us again take a single representative, and that not 
an ideal one of the uncalculating soul as found in the 
Robert Browning gallery. Paracelsus, that strange, erratic 
doctor of the sixteenth century, was an incoherent, tem- 
pestuous man. His was a character full of painful contra- 
dictions. His life was blurred with mistakes and blotted 
with passions. He died a disappointment to his friends, 
and his memory has survived even to this day as a bur- 
lesque and a warning. But histoiy is slowly justifying 
the inference of the poem that bears his name that there was 
a success underneath the failure. There is that in the story 
which makes for courage, which shows that it is better again 
to fail in a high undertaking than never to try. To his 
pleading friends, the young man, about to start out on his 
quest, says, 

What is it you wish ? 

That I should lay aside my heart's pursuit, 
Abandon the sole ends for which I live, 
Reject God's great commission and so die ? 

This young man's sublime faith in his own dreams rises 
to such heights that to his dearest friends it seems but 
towering audacity. The logic of failure had no intimida- 
tions. He feared no god without sufficiently to interfere 
with his respect for the God within. 

The sovereign proof 

That we devote ourselves to God, is seen 
In living just as though no God there were. 

To his friends who plead caution and moderation, he 

Choose your side, 

Hold or renounce : but meanwhile blame me not 
Because I dare to act on your own views, 
Nor shrink when they point onward, nor espy 
A peril where they most ensure success ; 


and this daring comes, not from a vision of the other end, 
but from a potency at this end of the line. He ventures 
upon what he knows as an unsolved problem. He says, 

No, I have naught to fear ! Who will may know 

The secret'st workings of my soul. What though 

It be so f if indeed the strong desire 

Eclipse the aim in me ? if splendour break 

Upon the outset of my path alone, 

And duskest shade succeed ? What fairer seal 

Shall I require to my authentic mission 

Than this fierce energy ? this instinct striving 

Because its nature is to strive ? enticed 

By the security of no broad course, 

Without success forever in its eyes ! 

How know I else such glorious fate my own, 

-But in the restless irresistible force 

That works within me ? Is it for human will 

To institute such impulses ? still less, 

To disregard their promptings ! What should I 

Do, kept among you all ; your lives, your cares, 

Your life all to be mine ? Be sure that God 

Ne'er dooms to waste the strength he deigns impart ! 

Ask the giec-eagle why she stoops at once 

Into the vast and unexplored abyss, 

What full-grown power informs her from the first, 

Why she not marvels, strenuously beating 

The silent boundless regions of the sky ! 

Be sure they sleep not whom God needs ! Nor fear 

Their holding light his charge, when every hour 

That finds that charge delayed, is a new death. 

This for the faith in which I trust ; and hence 

I can abjure so well the idle arts 

These pedants strive to learn and teach. 

In this audacious faith in himself Paracelsus went forth 

Know, not for knowing's sake, 
But to become a star to men forever. 

Of course, the knowledge he obtained proved nine parts 
ignorance. His light soon became a darkness on the face 
of the earth, but, in defeat, disgrace and sin, he never lost 
this high audacity, never ceased to believe that it was his 
business to perform his " share of the task." 


The rest is God's concern ; mine, merely this, 
To know that I have obstinately held 
By my own work. 

Ever in his heart there was found, as in a " shrine, the 
giant image of perfection, grown in hate's despite." The 
outcome of this life was sad enough, gloomy defeat, sick 
humiliation, but he never deserved the epitaph written over 
those whose galleys went over the sea " With cleaving 
prows in order brave, " namely, 

The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung 
To their first fault and withered in their pride. 

Although he was compelled to render up his soul without 
the "fruits it was ordained to bear," he went, '"joyous back 
to God," bringing no offering, sustained by the thought 

So glorious is our nature, so august 
Man's inborn, uninstructed impulses, 
His naked spirit so majestical ! 

The irreverence of his battling soul breathed a piety. 
So splendidly did he trust his instincts, fight for them, die 
for them, that we can but feel that there was some funda- 
mental integrity which would escape all " devil toil " and 
" hell torments " because 

He had immortal feelings ; such shall never 
Be wholly quenched. 

With Festus we join in the death-bed prayer, one of the 
most divinely audacious in literature because it represents 
the stalwart spirituality that demands fair play even at the 
hands of omnipotence. It insists that the eternal God 
should be humane, that he must be just before being 

I am for noble Aureole, God ! 
I am upon his side, come weal or woe. 
His portion shall be mine. He has done well. 
I would have sinned, had I been strong enough, 
As lie has sinned. Reward him or I waive 
Reward ! If thou canst find no place for him, 
He shall be king elsewhere, and I will be 
His slave forever. There are two of us. 


The glow-points of history are those where stand such 
uncalculating souls, they who counted not the end ere they 
did the deed. The heroes of the world are those who 
obeyed the divine propulsion without trying to anticipate 
results. He who would sink the flukes of his faith-anchor 
in a far future or a far past, knows not the inspiration of 
the saint. Faith comes through action. It waits no an- 
swer to its questions. It parleys not with expedience. It 
seeks no shorter route than conscience, no easier path than 

Chinese Gordon, the uncrowned king of the Soudan, was 
the Sir Galahad of the English army in his day. No more 
poetic and spotless illustration of faith is found in modern 
times than that given by him. With tireless disinterested- 
ness he tried to be the Christianity his government pro- 
fessed. We are told the motto of his life was this, found 
in 'Paracelsus,' his favorite poem: 

I go to prove my soul ! 
I see my way as birds their trackless way. 
I shall arrive ! what time, what circuit first, 
I ask not : but unless God send his hail 
Or blinding fireballs, sleet or stifling snow, 
In some good time, his good time, I shall arrive: 
He guides me and the bird. In his good time. 

Gordon knew a fearlessness based on inward confidence. 
Said King John of Abyssinia to him, 

" Do you know, Gordon Pasha, that I could kill you on 
the spot, if I liked ? " 

" Perfectly well aware of it, your majesty. If it is your 
royal pleasure, I am ready. Do so at once." 

"What! ready to be killed?" said the disconcerted 

" Certainly." 

" Then my power has no terror for you ? " 

"None whatever." 

Whereupon the king, not Gordon, 'was intimidated. 
Like that " Threatening Tyrant " in Browning's poem, he 


was afraid ! Not glory, not victory, but duty, was Nelson's 
word at Trafalgar. " Ich dien " was Faraday's motto, 
which led him to choose poverty and science rather than 
wealth and luxury. It is said that Washington was filled 
with troops a whole year before Charles Sumner had ever 
witnessed a parade. His post was in another part of the 
field, and the angels on their grand rounds always found 
this sentinel at his post. "This one thing I do," was 
Paul's motto. "Here I stand, God helping me, I cannot 
do otherwise," exclaimed Luther. "'Tis the old word, 
necessity is laid upon me," said Felix Holt. 

Not only is this method of the uncalculating soul exem- 
plified by the great, but it is taught by them. " The truly 
great man does not think beforehand that his words should 
be sincere, nor that his actions should be resolute. He 
simply always abides in the right," said Mencius. 

Nature hates calculators. Only in our spontaneous 
actions are we strong. "By contenting ourselves with 
obedience we become divine," said Emerson. 

" The wiser the angels, the more innocent they are," said 

" If we practise goodness for the sake of gaining some 
advantage by it, we may be cunning but we are not good," 
said Cicero. 

" No inquirer can fix a clear-sighted gaze towards truth 
who is casting side-glances all the while on the prospects 
of his soul," says James Martineau. 

You remember Victor Hugo's convent gardener who 
must needs wear a bell, as he said, " fastened to his paw in 
order to warn the pious sisters of the approach of a man." 
He is described as being " sorely tried, much worn by fate, 
a poor thread-bare soul, but still a man to act on the first 
impulse and spontaneously, a precious quality which pre- 
vents a man from ever being very wicked." 

To return to Robert Browning, we are warranted by him 
in saying another tiling concerning the uncalculating soul. 


Its assurances make the disappointments of life trifling. 
It lifts one above his defeats because it recognises the 
truth, that to God, being is more than doing, purpose is 
service. For once, at least, the unctuous Ogniben ap- 
proaches a gospel inspiration when he says, " Ever judge of 
men by their professions, for the bright moment of promis- 
ing is but a moment and cannot be prolonged, yet, if sin- 
cere in its moment of extravagant goodness, why trust it 
and know the man by it, I say not by his performance 
which is half the world's work, interfere as the world needs 
must with its accidents and its circumstances, the pro- 
fession was purely the man's own. I judge people by 
what they might be, not are, nor will be." 

This is solace to the badgered soul. It is probably the 
most central thing in Browning's teachings. For this we 
will love him, if for nothing else, and if need be, in spite 
of everything else. Shall we not indeed give to Giotto 
credit for the spire that has never graced the Florentine 
Campanile ? 

'T is not what man does which exalts him, but what man would do ! 


What I aspired to be, 
And was not comforts me. 

All instincts immature, 
All purposes unsure, 
That weighed not as his work, yet, swelled the man's amount. 

Fancies that broke thro' language and escaped ; 

All I could never be, 

All, men ignored in me, 
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. 

All that is, at all, 
Lasts ever, past recall ; 
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure. 

Rabbi Ben Ezra. 

Oh, if we draw a circle premature, 

Heedless of far gain, 
Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure 

Bad is our bargain ! 



Was it not great ? did not lie throw on God, 

( He loves the burthen) 
God's task to make the heavenly period 

Perfect the earthen ? 
Did not he magnify the mind, show clear 

Just what it all meant ? 
He would not discount life, as fools do here, 

Paid by instalment. 
He ventured neck or nothing heaven's success 

Found, or earth's failure : 
" Wilt thou trust death or not ? " He answered " Yes! 

Hence with life's pale lure." 
That low man seeks a little thing to do, 

Sees it and does it : 
This high man, with a great thing to pursue, 

Dies ere he knows it. 
That low man goes on adding one to one, 

His hundred 's soon hit : 
This high man, aiming at a million, 

Misses an unit. 
That, has the world here should he need the next, 

Let the world mind him ! 
This, throws himself on God, and unperplexed 

Seeking shall find him. 

A Grammarian's Funeral. 

The last and best thing is yet to be said concerning the 
uncalculating soul. He is justified, not only in experience, 
but in philosophy. His method is scientific. His morality 
is based in law. This uncalculating ethics rests in and 
rises out of the thought of evolution. The man who 
follows the intuitions of his soul is wise enough to profit 
by the tuitions of his fore-elders. The insight of the 
prophet is the stratified sight of his ancestors. What they 
groped and toiled for and died without the finding are the 
happy promptings, the uncounted instincts, the inheritance 
of the child of to-day ; the tears of the mother and the 
grandmother become the radiant joy of the children and the 
grandchildren. The Nile deposits five inches of alluvial 
soil upon the fertile fields of Egypt in a century, about 
one-twentieth of an inch per year. This soil has been 
probed to the depth of sixty feet or more. That is very 


poor science that assumes that this year's millet crop is the 
outcome of this year's flood, though it might not come with- 
out the annual inundation. The millet has come out of this 
last one-twentieth of an inch plus the sixty feet of previous 
alluvium. This last one-twentieth of an inch is the con- 
scious element in morals. That we may, nay, we must, 
reason about, analyse, weigh, calculate, and thus increase 
its fertility and importance. But the mighty potency qf 
morals comes from the tap-root, sunk deep into uncon- 
scious inheritances that reach down through the dawn 
of civilisation, through the various strata of barbarism, 
through primitive savagery, into all the forms of animal 
and vegetable being. The soul's propulsion towards the 
right is related to the mute force that blankets with husks 
the growing corn and water-proofs the autumn bud for the 
sake of spring foliage and blossom. Conscience is akin to 
that strange prevision that teaches the bee to fill its winter 
cupboard and the squirrel to stock its granaries against the 
unyielding season, a prevision that bee and squirrel know 
not of. 

I go to prove my soul ! 

I see my way as birds their trackless way. 

He guides me and the bird. In his good time ! 

This is good science as well as good poetiy. There is a 
common gravitation that holds plant, bird and man in one 


Across the narrow beach we flit, 
One little sandpiper and I, 
And fast I gather, bit by bit, 
The scattered driftwood bleached and dry. 
The wild waves reach their hands for it, 
The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, 
As up and down the beach we flit, 
One little sandpiper and I. 

Comrade, where wilt thou be to-night 
When the loosed storm breaks furiously ? 
My driftwood fire will burn so bright ! 
To what warm shelter canst thou fly 1 


I do not fear for thee, though wroth 
The tempest rushes through the sky : 
For are we not God's children both, 
Thou, little sandpiper and I ? 

There are those still reluctant to accept this inspiring 
conclusion, " God's children both, the sandpiper and the 
soul." They dread this divine necessity of law, admitting 
that Nature, by her methods, protects the winter bud, has 
tutored the bee and the squirrel, and has taught the bird 
his benign migration, but for the soul, they claim some 
peculiar, supermundane sources. Evolution? Yes, of 
course, all the way up to man, perhaps even including the 
physical man ; but for morals and religion some special 
intervention, a miraculous lift, a supernatural revelation, 
is devoutly clutched at. But with the poet, I refuse to be 
disinherited. We cannot afford to sever a link in that 
chain of splendid being that unites us to all that is. I 
prefer a duty that reaches for its sanctions down through 
cactus to granite rather than that which is borne down 
from a heaven above on fitful gusts of incoherent reve- 
lation. The beautiful necessity which star-rays the snow- 
flake impels me " to go prove my soul," and to believe that 
"in some good time I shall arrive. He guides me and 
the bird." The pregnant lines of Emerson's 4 Rhodora ' 
were as much a mystery and delight as the purple petals 
of the flower that inspired them, and the best the poet 
could do was to surmise that the same power that brought 
the one brought the other. 

"Let us build altars to the beautiful necessity," said 
Emerson. All strong souls have been great believers in 
fate. Great was the reach of Newton's mind who saw the 
pull of the planets, the hunger of each for his fellow. 
Greater still is the insight of the poet who sees this pull 
of human nature towards excellence, the divine gravita- 
tion of man to man, the holy attraction towards the right, 
the thirst for nobility that blooms into conscience as a 


manifestation of the same law, the working out of the 
same destiny. 

" Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being 
is a descending into us, we know not whence," says 

I believe in the morals called intuitive because I believe 
" in the tuition of eons of time and cycles of being that have 
produced them. I believe none the less in the ethics of 
reason, judgment, and discriminating experiments, because 
each generation is to add its twentieth of an inch to the 
splendid deposits of the centuries. Each age must add its 
verse to the bible of the race, "texts of despair or hope, 
of joy or moan." Nature pushed up through crystal, cell, 
plant, fish, fowl, beast, ape, and savage to Jesus. The 
conscience of Channing was the higher manifestation of 
the power that trailed the arbutus through the rocky glens 
of Massachusetts, and in the main, one force hides from 
consciousness, eludes analysis, as much as the other. The 
great deeds of the world are done in obedience to prompt- 
ings as subtle and irresistible as that which impels the 
water-fowl through the trackless sky. "He guides me 
and the bird." Bryant ventured to anticipate the shel- 
tered nest beneath the "bending reeds" as an incentive 
to the flight, but I suspect the bird did not know of 
the nest. It was haunted only by apprehension of cold. 
A mute impulse impelled it to fly, and in its flight, strange 
confidence in its wings grew. By flying came that splen- 
did faith there is no other word for it, faith in God, 
"the evidence of things unseen, the substance of things 
hoped for." This faith, born of action, is the most trium- 
phant and commanding thing in the world. It makes a 
success of the man, howe'er his schemes may fail, and this 
halting distrust of a holy prompting, a scepticism concern- 
ing the wisdom of a right act, of the safety of truth-telling 
and tiuth-f olio wing, is the most disastrous thing in the 
world. It makes a failure of the man, however the scheme 


succeeds. It may build a house, but it ruins the home. It 
may plant a mission, but it gags and kills the missionary. 
The triumphant faith rests, not on foresight, but upon the 
impulse born out of insight. Luther had his halting 
moments. He never had a very clear vision of what it 
was all coming to. There were calculating and faithless 
souls who saw the end of it all more clearly than Luther 
ever did. Indeed, in his old age, when action could no 
longer feed the fires of faith, Luther was tempted to say, 
" Had I known the trouble it would bring, I would never 
have touched it." But Luther in action, Luther on the 
wing, uncalculating Luther, would go to Worms, " though 
there were as many devils as there were tiles on the house- 
tops." He went " to prove his soul," never doubting but 
that, in his good time, he should arrive. 

What a sweep " into the vast and unexplored abyss " 
did that gier-eagle of souls take, when he dared put his 
hand to the Emancipation Proclamation ! What " full- 
grown power " informed him there in the boundless regions 
of the sky that " they sleep not whom God needs ? " Abra- 
ham Lincoln is the most stupendous illustration in modern 
history of that fine climax in the aspirations of Paracelsus. 
There are 

Two points in the adventure of the diver, 
One when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge, 
'One when, a prince, he rises with his pearl ! 

Thus has our poet apprehended what the scientists 
demonstrate. Poetry foretells what science comes to tell. 
The poet, by the " tougher sinew " of his brain, the more 
penetrating grasp of his mind^ reaches the synthesis which 
his sure ally and best friend, the man of science, will, give 
him time enough, justify by analysis. 

4 Paracelsus ' was first published in 1835, one year 
before Emerson issued his prophetic essay called ' Nature,' 
prefaced by the lines : 


A subtle chain of countless rings, 
The next and to the farthest brings. 

And, striving to be man, the worm 
Mounts through all the spires of form 

twenty years before Spencer gave to the world the f oreshad- 
owings of his work, twenty-four years before Darwin pub- 
lished his ' Origin of Species,' forty-four years before the 
appearance of Spencer's 'Data of Ethics,' and nearly fifty 
years before John Fiske gave us his ' Idea of God ' and 
' Destiny of Man.' And still, without forcing the text, I 
think the careful reader finds the pith of all these books 
more or less clearly foreshadowed in this poem of ' Para- 
celsus,' written by a boy only twenty-three years of age, 
sixty years ago. Here we find, not only the doctrine of 
physical evolution, the overlaying of strata, the progressive 
series of plants and animals, but we find also strangely 
beautiful suggestions of the evolution of morals, the 
growth of spirit, and the crowning of the column of being 
with man's conscience as the authoritative, not infallible, 
force in the uncalculating soul. 

Here we read of " hints and previsions of his faculties," 
strewn confusedly everywhere before man appears. Once 
descried, he "imprints forever his presence on all lifeless 
things," " the winds are henceforth voices, never a sense- 
less gust, now man is born." 

And still, the ladder of being mounts with an ever-in- 
creasing apprehension of man's passing worth. Not con- 
tent with " here and there a star to dispel the darkness," 
here and there a " towering mind to o'erlook its prostrate 
fellows," this boy-poet sang of the time when " the host is 
out at once to the despair of night," when " all mankind " 
shall boast of " full-blown powers," then, not till then, 
"begins man's general infancy." 

Prognostics told 

Man's near approach ; so in man's self arise 
August anticipations, symbols, types 
Of a dim splendour ever on before 



In that eternal circle life pursues. 

For men begin to pass their nature's bound, 

And find new hopes and cares which fast supplant 

Their proper joys and griefs ; they grow too great 

For narrow creeds of right and wrong, which fade 

Before the unmeasured thirst for good ; while peace 

Rises within them ever more and more. 

Such men are even now upon the earth, 

Serene amid the half-formed creatures round 

Who should be saved by them, and joined with them. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Dec. 27, 1892.] 

UPON first thought the intrinsic value of contemporary 
judgment seems to amount to almost nothing : " Few 
things," says Mr. J. Addington Symonds, "are more per- 
plexing than the vicissitudes of taste, whereby the idols 
of past generations crumble suddenly to dust, while the 
despised and rejected are lifted to pinnacles of glory." 

These words apply with especial force to the change 
wrought in the critical attitude toward those great torch- 
bearers who lit up so gloriously the first years of our own 
century. During these early years there came into exis- 
tence The Quarterly Review, Blackwood's, The Edinburgh, 
The Examiner, magazines which, like Milton's Satan, 
had " through their merit been raised to a bad eminence," 
and "insatiate to pursue vain war with Heaven," dis- 
charged their critical office, as if all poets manifesting 
unusual genius were their natural enemies. All of us are, 
by hearsay, familiar with the awful terror of their weapons ; 
but it is doubtful whether imagination has ever clothed the 
tradition in a way at all approaching the fatuous reality of 
their printed words. Like many critics of the present day 
when dealing with poets of the calibre of William Blake, 
George Meredith, or Robert Browning, they found the 
poetry of the Lake and so-called Cockney schools " obscure." 
Wordsworth's ' Ode to Immortality ' was considered by 
Blackwood's a most illegible and unintelligible poem. " We 


can pretend to give no analysis or explanation of it." So 
vicious an example of obscurity is it, that the reviewer has 
"every reason to hope that the lamentable consequences 
which have resulted from Mr. Wordsworth's open violation 
of the established laws of poetry will operate as a whole- 
some warning to those who might otherwise have been 
seduced by his example." 

The Quarterly made superhuman efforts to get through 
with ' Endymion,' and concludes, " We are no better 
acquainted with the meaning of the book through which 
we have so painfully toiled than we are with that of the 
three which we have not looked into." It wonders whether 
" Mr. Keats is his real name," for it doubts that any man 
in his senses should put his " name to such a rhapsody." 
' Prometheus,' in the words of The Literary Gazette of 1820, 
is little else but " absolute raving. ... A melanye of non- 
sense, cockneyism, poverty, and pedantry." And in the 
estimation of The Edinburgh Review, one of the most nota- 
ble pieces of impertinence of which the Press had lately 
been guilty was the publication of ' Christabel,' whose 
author had " the monstrous assurance to come forward 
coolly at that time of day and tell the reader of English 
poetry, whose ear had been tuned to the lays of Spenser, 
Milton, Dryden, and Pope, that he made his metre on a 
new principle." 

Such criticism as this makes one feel like exclaiming, 
as Childe Roland did of the blind horse, " I never saw a 
tribe I hated so," and writing down all contemporary critics 
as a race specially scorned of Providence in the matter of 
penetration. But it must not be forgotten that the era 
marked by this extraordinarily vituperative criticism 
occupies but a small portion of the whole body of English 
criticism, and bearing in mind also the scientific method of 
proceeding so much in vogue at present, with its deductions 
based upon facts, always facts, we are warned not to 
come to too hasty conclusions. Only an eternity of Grad- 


grinds in immortal conclave could definitely settle the 

Though not able in the nature of the case to collect and 
sift all the facts, we can glance at a few and make at least 
provisional deductions. 

Turning to the dawn of the Elizabethan Age, we find 
that criticism in our modern sense had not yet been devel- 
oped, but there then flourished a race of critics of verse 
forms, who, not occupied with the individual merits of 
poets, were one and all bent on the improvement of Eng- 
lish poetic forms. Puffed up with a little classical knowl- 
edge, they would take Horace or Virgil for their Apollo. 
The general surceasing of bald rhymes was determined 
upon; fixed rules for quantitative metre were to be 
adopted; hexameters were to reign supreme. Even the 
poet Spenser was touched by this fever for artificial im- 
provement ; but his natural genius happily saved him from 
going too far, and in one of his famous letters to Harvey, 
after some praise of the hexameter, he winds up, " Why 
a God's name may not we, as else the Greeks, have the 
kingdom of our own language, and measure our accents by 
the sound, reserving quantity to the verse ? " In spite of 
the fact, however, that these formulators of cast-iron rules 
for the construction of poetry were opposed to such poetical 
practice as that of Spenser, they were not unconscious of 
his genius. The most rabid of the Hexametrists sa} r s, 
when speaking of contemporary poets, " I confess and 
acknowledge that we have many excellent and singular 
good poets in this our age, as Master Spenser . . . and 
divers others whom I reverence in that kind of prose 
rhythm, wherein Spenser hath surpassed them all. I would 
to God they had done so well in trew Hexametres, for 
they had then beautified our language." This reminds one 
of Miss Jenkyn's criticism, in ' Cranford,' on the author of 
'The Pickwick Papers,' "doubtless a young man, who 
might do very well if he would take Dr. Johnson for a 


model." Spenser was also mildly praised of Sir Philip 
Sidney : " ' The Shepherd's Calendar ' hath much poetry 
in his eclogues, indeed worthy the reading, if I be not 

It was quite natural that the romantic drama then grow- 
ing up should be scorned by this new-old school ; and every 
one is familiar with the wit and learning with which 
Sidney exposed its fallacies. Fortunately, however, for 
the poets of that day, their fame did not depend upon a 
scant word of praise uttered by the rhetoricians. We have 
a picture in that curious old play, 'The Return from 
Parnassus,' of the necessity devolving upon every poet of 
finding an aristocratic patron, who was generally to be 
bought at the expenditure of a little, or rather of a good 
deal, of judicious flattery. Once taken under the wing of 
a nobleman, the popular judgment did the rest, and the 
" scollers " found their grumbling of little avail. No doubt 
these same " scollers " flung their sneers at Shakespeare, 
a fact also patent in ' The Return from Parnassus.' The 
University gentleman who wrote this play for a cultured 
audience might find it amusing to make his Gullio an 
empty pretender to knowledge the only one to " worship 
sweet Mr. Shakespeare ; " but even while the cultured audi- 
ence was laughing at the hit, the Universities ( in the person 
of Francis Meres, who was Master of Arts of both Cambridge 
and Oxford, and Professor of Rhetoric in Oxford) had 
placed their approval upon Shakespeare. Sincerely appre- 
ciative is his quaintly worded praise, " As the soul of 
Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet, 
witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey tongued 
Shakespeare." ... As Epius Stolo said that the Muses 
would speak with Plautus' tongue if they would speak 
Latin, so say I, that the Muses would speak with Shake- 
speare's fine-fild phrase if they would speak English.'' 

Such contemporary notices as have come down to us, 
with some few exceptions, such as Greene's famous " Shake- 


scene " speech, go to prove the general estimation in which 
Shakespeare was held during his life. Though later 
Shakespeare idolaters have loved to enlarge on Ben Jonson's 
malignity toward Shakespeare, Gifford has shown pretty 
conclusively that the malignity was on the part of the 
idolaters toward Jonson, while the unbiassed reader will 
certainly find much more praise than blame in Ben Jonson's 
utterances upon Shakespeare. As he says of Shakespeare, 
we may say of his criticisms of Shakespeare, " There was 
ever more in him to be praised than pardoned." 

By the time Milton appears on the scene, classical models 
have had their due effect. Gabriel Harvey would no 
doubt have hailed with delight Milton's blank verse, but 
alas ! " It is never the time and the place and the loved 
one altogether." The poet who excelled in blank verse 
came too late for the critics who would have appreciated 
it ; and we find him obliged to preface the second edition 
of 'Paradise Lost' with an apology for blank verse. But 
he was not altogether without contemporary praise, and 
from a very high source. Dryden, the great Mogul of 
letters, said in the preface to his poem, ' The State of Inno- 
cence,' that 'Paradise Lost' was " undoubtedly one of the 
greatest, most noble, and most sublime poems which either 
this age or nation has produced." He admired it so much 
evidently that he thought it worthy of his own most august 
improvement. ' The State of Innocence ' was the result, 
a version of 'Paradise Lost,' which, as Milton expressed it, 
was " tagged with rhymes." 

In Dryden and Pope we have the spectacle of poets who 
attained the widest recognition in their lifetime, literary 
dictators, as some one has called them, poets who wrote in 
a school which was generally approved by the taste of the 
time, and which they may be said to have both reflected 
and led. Their successes, it is true, raised up against 
them a number of envious scribblers. But this was not 
an age when the poets died of criticism, as Keats is said 


by Byron to have done ; the bitterest invective of a dis- 
appointed hack could not compete with the terrible shafts 
of sarcasm wielded by a Pope or a Dryden. Whenever 
the poets gave battle to the critics on their own ground, 
the critics were worsted, and dispersed like Penelope's 
suitors under the bow of Odysseus. 

From this rapid glance at a few well-known facts, is it 
possible to draw any deductions? I think we may at 
least conclude, even with this scant material, that before 
deciding as to the value of contemporary judgment, a 
great many factors must be taken into account. The 
popular admiration for Shakespeare during his lifetime 
has been developed by succeeding generations into the 
profoundest reverence for his genius ; but no one would 
hesitate to say that when Meres wrote of him as he did, 
in 1598, he expressed a contemporary opinion of real and 
lasting value. On the other hand, it is doubtful whether 
the consensus of opinion at the present time would ratify 
the popular contemporary judgment in regard to Dryden 
and Pope. John Dennis's opinion that the precepts in the 
' Essay on Criticism ' were false and trivial, the thoughts 
crude and abortive, might even find an echo in a modern 

In both these eras, however, the poets were decidedly in 
the ascendant; they did not make their debut into the 
literary world under the chaperonage of the critics. Their 
appeal was direct to the public. But there is this differ- 
ence between the two periods, while the Elizabethan 
Age was not the forerunner of any school of criticism 
based upon it, by which the works of the succeeding era 
were judged, the classical era furnished the foundation of 
the future criticism, whose superstructure towers into the 
present. With the growth of prose, criticism gradually 
usurped the place of poetry as guide in literary matters ; 
and when a new race of poets with new ideals arose, they 
were in the position of rebels against the established order 


of things, and it was the duty of the critics, as the pur- 
veyors of taste, to warn all readers against these danger- 
ous poetical anarchists. 

Shakespeare in his day, and Pope and Dryden in theirs, 
depended, therefore, on the critical judgment of the " gen- 
eral " rather than upon that of a particular critic or school 
of critics, and that each prospered in his own day indicates 
that each was the legitimate offspring of his time. 

I think, then, that from these illustrations we may 
venture as provisional deductions that when a poet is the 
outcome of a great age of spontaneous poetical activity, 
such as the Elizabethan Age, when not only were the 
poets many and good, but the general public was largely 
receptive to poetical influences, contemporary judgment 
is likely to be appreciative and therefore of intrinsic value ; 
when the poet is the outcome of an age of artificial poet- 
ical activity, such as that of Pope, when poets and public 
are alike busied with the form rather than the spirit of 
poetry, contemporary judgment is likely to be exaggerated 
in its approval, and of lesser value ; but when the poet is 
not so much the outcome as the prophet of a coming great 
age, and with ideals opposed to the art conventions of 
his time, contemporary judgment is unequal to the task 
of appreciating him, and is consequently of little or no 

Yet even in the most unappreciative age, there were 
voices crying in the wilderness to announce its poets. 
Shelley as critic saw that " in spite of the low-thoughted 
envy which would undervalue contemporary merit," his 
own age would be a memorable one in intellectual achieve- 
ments. " We live," he says, " among such philosophers 
and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have 
appeared since the last national struggle for civil and 
religious liberty." 

There are numerous other factors which might be con- 
sidered in a discussion of this subject, such as political 


bias, personal friendship or enmity, the individual pene- 
tration of the critic, all of which would no doubt modify 
these general conclusions in many special instances, such, 
for example, as Queen Elizabeth's judgment upon ' Richard 
II.,' which she would not allow to be acted because a king 
was deposed in it. 

The cases of valueless contemporary judgment which 
Browning has poetised in ' The Two Poets of Croisic ' are 
especially interesting in this connection, as showing how 
unusual and fortuitous circumstances may bring about a 
meteor-like popularity for which there is no lasting foun- 
dation. It was not the poetic skill of Rene Gentilhomme 
that gained him his short-lived popularity, but a happy 
coincidence which revealed him in the light of a prophet. 
Popularity from such a cause could be gained only amid 
uncritical and superstitious surroundings. 

The fictitious popularity of Des Forges through his 
sister Malcrais can perhaps be best explained by reference 
to that vanity resident in the breast of man, which was 
flattered, in the case of La Roque, by having a feminine 
poet, whose rhymes reflected the charming weakness of 
her sex, throw herself upon his tender mercy. Perhaps 
France, in the age of Voltaire, is the only country where 
popularity founded on such a basis would be possible. 
Picture the stern rebuff she would probably have received 
at the hands of a man like Fitzgerald. 

Toward the latter half of this century we see a curious 
combination of conditions which admits of the culmina- 
tion of the " Cockney School " in Tennyson, for is he 
not the heir of Keats ? and of the beginning, and 
perhaps the culmination also, of a new school in Browning. 
Yet Tennyson, who had had the ground ploughed for him, 
to a certain extent, by his predecessors, did not escape the 
ill-natured censure of a " Rusty Crusty Christopher ; " and 
how is it with Browning ? 

It is a widely spread tradition, on the one hand, that 


Browning was never appreciated until the Browning Soci- 
eties found him out ; and on the other hand, there are 
Philistines who imagine that the amateurish idolaters of 
which Browning Societies are supposed to be composed 
have set themselves up against the authority of criticism. 
So much has been said of the criticism in a certain Review, 
which, when ' Pauline ' first appeared, dismissed it in one 
line as " a piece of pure bewilderment," that it has come 
to be regarded as a sort of model of all early Browning 
criticism. But a survey of those criticisms which appeared 
before 1860 reveals the fact that there were a number 
which at once recognised in Browning a poet of extraor- 
dinary power, some even venturing to declare him the 
greatest genius since Shakespeare. 1 Of course there were 
those who grumbled, those who were silent ; and as time 
has gone on and the poet's work has been more read, there 
has been an ever-increasing chorus of discordant voices, 
some appreciative, some the reverse. Neither upon 
Browning nor upon Tennyson does contemporary opinion 
approach to any degree of unanimity. 

We are perhaps too close at hand to weigh the value of 
the judgment in regard to these two master-spirits of the 
Victorian Age ; but he who runs can see, illustrated by 
the criticism on these two poets alone, that, with the grow- 
ing complexity of life, criticism has become more and more 
a matter of the individual insight and preferences of the 
critic. The almost autocratic authority of a school has 
given way to the somewhat precarious authority of the 
individual; and as a natural consequence, contemporary 
judgment ranges through all degrees of value. 

As the bulwarks of the old, authoritative criticism are 
crumbling to decay, there is arising a new order of criti- 

1 Among these appreciative reviews may be mentioned one of ' Pauline,' by Allan Cun- 
ningham, Atlifwrum, 1833; Review of 'Strafford,' Literary Gazette, 1837; Review of 
'Paracelsus,' The Theologian, 1845; Review by James Russell Lowell, North. American 
Review, 1848; Review in Massachusetts Quarterly, 1850; Review in Christian Remem- 
brancer, 1857, and others. 



cism, to which Browning stands in the closest affinity. 
One of the fundamental principles of this criticism is the 
relativity of all art. Posnett points out how no art ex- 
pression in any age can be more than an approach to a 
universal ideal, subject, as it always is and must be, to 
limitations of time and place. The old criticism weighed 
eveiy new manifestation in art by past achievements, 
which in course of time came to be regarded almost as 
divine revelations in art, rather than as imperfect human 
attempts to all-express beauty. This same principle of 
relativity is the touchstone by which Browning tries every 
realm of human endeavour, and the failure which he 
records everywhere is but a recognition of this all-pervad- 
ing law of evolution. 

A fine example of its application to art is to be found in 
the 'Parleying with Charles Avison,' where he says all 
arts endeavour to preserve hard and fast how we feel as 
what we know, yet none of them attain thereto, because 
the province of art is not in the true sense creative. 

Arts arrange, 

Dissociate, re-distribute, interchange 
Part with part, lengthen, broaden, high or deep 
Construct their bravest, still such pains produce 
Change, not creation. 

In short, the province of art is to use the materials of knowl- 
edge, of which the mind takes cognisance, in giving out- 
ward form and expression to the creative impulses born of 
the soul. Knowledge being limited, art must also be 
limited in its capacity to all-express these creative impulses. 
What, then, must be the attitude of the critic ? 

He certainly must not expect to find perfect creations 
in art which shall be a law unto all time. His duty will 
be, as Symonds defines it, "to judge, but not without 
understanding the natural and historical conditions of the 
product under examination, nor without making the allow- 
ances demanded by his sense of relativity," or as Brown- 


ing, with the finer human touch of the poet, puts it, he 
must bring his " life to kindle theirs." The critic in this 
school cannot dogmatically dismiss some poets as beneath 
his notice and claim kingship for others. Every poet, 
great and small, must find a place in his scheme of human 
art development. Unbiassed, he must look down from 
the lofty summit of universal sympathy. 

With the light of the new criticism in his eyes, who 
shall say to what heights of value the contemporary judg- 
ment of the future critic may not rise ? 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Feb. 28, 1893.] 

BROWNING is unquestionably a great master of rhyme. 
Mr. Arthur Symons does not go too far in saying in his 
comments on the poet's metre and versification : " In one 
very important matter, that of rhyme, he is perhaps the 
greatest master in our language ; in single and double, in 
simple and grotesque alike, he succeeds in fitting rhyme to 
rhyme with a perfection which I have never found in any 
other poet of any age." 

This mastery of rhyme is shown, in the first place, by 
the fact that he rarely, if ever, violates the law which, as 
Sidney Lanier puts it, " forbids the least intrusion of the 
rhyme as rhyme, that is, as anything less than the best 
word in the language for the idea in hand." George 
Gascoigne expressed it more quaintly three centuries and 
a half ago : " I would exhorte you also to beware of rime 
without reason : my meaning is hereby that your rime 
leade you not from your firste Invention, for many wryters 
when they have laid the platform of their invention, are 
yet drawen sometimes (by rime) to forget it or at least to 
alter it, as .when they cannot readily finde out a worde 
which maye rime to the first . . . they do then eyther 
botche it up with a worde that will rime (howe small 
reason soever it carie with it) or els they alter their first 
worde and so percase decline or trouble their former 
Invention : But do you alwayes hold your first determined 


Invention, and do rather searche the bottome of your 
brayiies for apte words, than change good reason for 
rambling rime." It is seldom, if ever (except in cases of 
which I shall speak further on, where elaborately fantastic 
effects in rhyme are purposely introduced to surprise and 
amuse us), that Browning seems driven to use a word 
for the rhyme which he would not use for the sense. His 
words are such as he needs to express his meaning, and 
no more than he needs : there is no weakening of the 
sense, and no padding out of the verse. 1 

Browning's masterly ease in rhyming is also shown in 
the remarkable variety of his stanza-forms. He has more 
of them than any other English poet, early or recent ; and 
in not a few of them the rhyme-structure is more or less 
complex and difficult. ' Through the Metidja ' is an extra- 
ordinary tour de force in this respect, a single rhyme being 
carried through the forty lines. The repetition of " As I 
ride, as I ride," is counterbalanced by the " internal 
rhymes," so-called, " Who dares chide my heart's pride," 

1 Poets who pad out their verses for the sake of rhyme might well print the superfluous 
matter in italics, as a humble New Hampshire bard has done. I am the fortunate owner of 
a little volume entitled ' Farmer's Meditations, or Shepherd's Songs, by Thomas Randall, 
a Resident of Eaton, N. H.' (Limerick, Me., 1833.) In a poem on the birds, this couplet 
occurs (the italics are in the original) : 

Their language was charming, 't was lovely and true ; 
Each sound was delightful, and plain to the view. 

The following is from an elegy ' On the Sudden Death of John Hern ' : 

That voice that so often has thrilled on the ear, 
By the call of his dog, and the grasp of his gun, 
Those limbs, not oft weary, nor startled with fear, 
Are cold now in death, and his voice is undone. 

This is from Jesus Christ, the King of Kings ' : 

May Europe (now in foreign lands) 
Soon burst their heathen, slavish bands. 

The italics in their are apparently introduced (as in sundry other places in the book) on 
account of the liberty taken with the grammatical construction. 
A stanza in verses ' On the Loss of Parents ' is printed thus : 

Their sleep or slumber we deplore 
If sleep why do they never snore f 
Or turn or stir within their cell, 
And prove to us that all is well ? 


*' Do I glide, unespied," etc., introduced in ten of 
the lines. There are thirty-six rhyming words in all, and 
ride is the only one repeated. In the ' Lovers' Quarrel ' 
we have twenty-two seven-line stanzas, with but two 
rhymes in each, one being carried through jive lines out of 
the seven. In ' Childe Roland ' there are thirty-four six- 
line stanzas, with two rhymes in each subtly interlaced. 
Five-line stanzas appear to have been favourites with the 
poet for about forty years of his career, from the period 
of 'Men and Women,' written between 1850 and 1855, to 
'Asolando,' the latter volume containing five examples 
with three variations in metrical form. In ' Dls Aliter 
Visum ' a peculiar and difficult internal rhyme (a single 
syllable between the rhyming words) occurs in each of 
the thirty stanzas : " Is that all true ? I say, the day" 
" That I have seen her, walked and talked" " O'er the 
lone stone fence, let me get" etc. These rhymes come in 
so naturally that we should not recognise them as inten- 
tional in one case out of seven, unless our attention had 
been called to the metrical structure. 

Again, this mastery of rhyme is shown by the frequency 
and facility of rhyming in what the recent Shakespeare 
critics call " run-on lines " in distinction from " end-stopt 
lines," the former having no natural break or pause at the 
end as the latter have. In Pope and the poets of his 
school we may say that the lines are all " end-stopt," the 
exceptions being too few to bs worth noting. You may 
look through page after page of Pope's heroic couplets 
without finding a line that has not a comma or some 
larger stop at the end. It is this enforced pause at the 
end of each line, with the rare variations in the " caesura," 
or enforced pause in the middle of the line, that makes 
these " classic " compositions so tiresome to our modern 
ears, accustomed to more varied rhythmical effects. We 
soon weary of the monotonous jog-trot of the "faultily 
faultless" iambics and the perpetual recurrence of the 


obtrusive rhymes, their jingle forced upon our attention 
by the necessary pause after each. We can endure it for 
a hundred lines or so, but when it goes on for thousand 
after thousand, as in Pope's ' Iliad,' aptly so known in 
popular parlance, for it is not Homer's ' Iliad,' we cry 
with Macbeth : 

What, will the line stretch out to tho crack of doom ? 
. . . I '11 see no more ! 

Whether rhyme is doomed to disappear from our poetry, 
as a device suited only to tickle the ear in the childhood 
of poetical culture, discarded with growing taste, as the 
child throws away the baby rattle, I will not venture to 
say ; but these heroic rhymes, so popular in an age that 
reckoned nothing " classical " that was not pedantically 
formal and artificial, have certainly had their day, at 
least for long poems, or until another Browning appears. 
He has revived and revolutionised the heroic couplet, his 
amazing command of rhyme and of the more refined har- 
monies of rhythm enabling him to get exquisite music out 
of this old-fashioned jingle and jog-trot, and to continue 
it indefinitely without tiring us. Whatever we may think 
of ' Sordello ' in other respects, we must admit that it is a 
masterpiece of rhymed measure. The " run-on " lines are 
so frequent that we hardly notice that they are arranged in 
heroic couplets. In Pope, as I have said, there is a point 
and a pause at the end of nearly every line ; here not one 
line in seven is thus marked off. A person not familiar 
with the poem might listen to long passages read with 
proper emphasis and expression, and take them for blank 
verse. The same is true of shorter poems in the same 
measure. Take, for example, at random a passage from 
4 My Last Duchess ' : 

Sir, 't was not 

Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek : perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say " Her mantle laps 


Over my lady's wrist too much," or " Paint 

Must never hope to reproduce the faint 

Half-flush that dies along her throat : " such stuff 

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 

For calling up that spot of joy. She had 

A heart how shall I say 1 too soon made glad, 

Too easily impressed ; she liked whate'er 

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 

In many of the poems in other measures, the rhyme is 
similarly obscured by the " run-on " lines, though they are 
much shorter. Take this stanza from ' Count Gismbnd,' 
for example : 

Till out strode Gismond ; then I knew 

That I was saved. I never met 
His face before, but, at first view, 

I felt quite sure that God had set 
Himself to Satan ; who would spend 
A minute's mistrust on the end ? 

Or this from 'In a Ye&i' where the lines are shorter 


Was it something said, 

Something done, 
Vexed him ? was it touch of hand, 

Turn of head ? 
Strange ! that very way 

Love begun : 
I as little understand 

Love's decay. 

In the following passage from ' Easter Day,' the octo- 
syllabic couplets of which run so easily into jingle, we 
have eight successive lines with no pause at the end : 

And as I said 

This nonsense, throwing back my head 
With light complacent laugh, I found 
Suddenly all the midnight round 
One fire. The dome of heaven had stood 
As made up of a multitude 
Of handbreadth cloudlets, one vast rack 
Of ripples infinite and black, 
From sky to sky. Sudden there went, 
Like horror and astonishment, 


A fierce vindictive scribble of red 

Quick flame across, as if one said 

(The angry scribe of Judgment) " There 

Burn it ! " 

If anybody thinks this kind of rhyming is easy, let him 
try it. In the average verse of the day you will find the 
lines almost invariably " end-stopt." The ordinary news- 
paper rh}-mer seldom gets beyond that elementary form of 
his art. 

Browning uses the "end-stopt" form only when the 
effect of the rhyme as rhyme is to be brought out, in 
addition to that of the metre or rhythm ; as in ' Through 
the Metidja,' and in that finer because less artificial horse- 
poem, ' How They Brought the Good News,' also in the 
' Cavalier Songs ' and other songs, and in many of the 
humorous poems. 

Certain critics have told us that Browning has many 
faulty rhymes, and a careless reader might easily get this 
impression; but the fact is that his percentage of such 
rhymes is smaller than in the average of our best poets. 
Miss Elizabeth M. Clark has furnished mathematical proof 
of this in her very interesting paper entitled, ' A Study 
of Browning's Rhymes,' in the second volume of Poet-Lore. 
She has found, by actual count, that in the 1096 pages of 
rhymed verse in the " Riverside Edition " (about two fifths 
of all Browning's poetry, the unrhymed filling 1572 pages), 
there are 34,746 rhymes, of which only 322 are bad, being 
either imperfect or forced, or both. This is less than one 
per cent, or one in a hundred. The list does not include 
" eye -rhymes," so-called, such as all poets unfortunately, 
in my humble opinion admit ; like dull and full, lone 
and gone, saith and faith, etc. Of these I am inclined 
to think Browning has fewer than the average in standard 
poetry. A recent British writer, Mr. Joseph Jacobs, 1 puts 
it in my power to compare the proportion of Browning's 

1 ' Tennyson and In Memoriam,' by Joseph Jacobs London, 1892). 


bad rhymes with Tennyson's at least with those of 
' In Memoriam.' He finds in that poem 168 bad rhymes 
in 1448, or somewhat more than eleven per cent. He 
gives a list of these 168 bad rhymes, as he regards them ; 
but on examining it I find that it includes many "eye- 
rhymes " (move, love ; most, lost ; moods, woods ; hearth, earth, 
etc.), and certain others that are used by the poets 
generally, even such unexceptionable rhymes as again, 
men ; hour, flower ; fair, prayer; view, do ; flre, higher, 
etc. By striking out such as these the list is reduced to 
48, or three per cent, and might perhaps be cut down to 
about two per cent. The worst of those that are left are 
mourn, urn ; curse, horse ; put, short ; one, alone ; Lord, 
guard, and I, enjoy. 

Miss Clark does not give a list of the rhymes she 
reckons bad (it is a pity that she does not, as it would 
occupy little space if printed in compact form), but I 
presume that most of them are the fantastic double and 
triple rhymes which occur in a comparatively small number 
of the poems. As a little experiment of my own, with 
a view to a fairer comparison with Tennyson, I have 
examined about a thousand lines of Browning's serious 
verse, taking the pieces as they come in my ' Select Poems 
of Browning * : ' Hervd Kiel,' ' Clive, 1 ' How They Brought 
the Good News,' etc., 'The Lost Leader,' 'Rabbi Ben 
Ezra,' ' Childe Roland,' ' The Boy and the Angel,' ' Pro- 
spice,' ' A Wall,' and ' My Star,' the last three short 
poems being taken, out of the regular order, to make 1000 
lines, and, throwing out the unrhymed lines in ' The 
Lost Leader,' there are exactly 1000. 1 In the five hun- 
dred rhymes there are only fifteen (or three per cent) that 
are in any degree bad, and fully two-thirds of these are 
" eye-rhymes," like watch, catch ; mass, pass; word, afford; 
shone (sometimes pronounced shon), gone, etc. The worst 

1 I will not vouch for the absolute accuracy of my counting, not having gone over it a 
second time ; but I think it will be found correct, or nearly so. 


are quiescence, presence ; light, infinite ; comes, glooms ; dunce, 
nonce, on the whole, not so bad as the worst I have 
cited from ' In Memoriam.' 

Miss Clark considers that all of Browning's imperfect 
or forced rhymes occur in these three cases : 

" First, when rough, uneducated characters speak for 
themselves ; second, when Browning is speaking about 
or describing such characters ; third, when he is speaking 
in his own person, evidently or apparently for himself." 
A simpler statement would be that these rhymes occur 
in poems or passages that are more or less sportive, familiar, 
or free-and-easy in style. As I have said, they are gener- 
ally double or triple rhymes, and as Professor Corson 
remarks in his excellent 'Primer of English Verse,' the 
emphasis of such rlrymes is "too pronounced for serious 
verse." He illustrates this by extracts from Byron's ' Don 
Juan,' showing " the part played by the double and triple 
rhymes in indicating the lowering of the poetic key, 
the reduction of true poetic seriousness." 

Of course, as Professor Corson adds, it must not be 
inferred that this is the peculiar function of such rhymes. 
" They may serve to emphasise the serious as well as the 
jocose ; " as in Mrs. Browning's ' Cowper's Grave.' The 
triple rhymes in Hood's 'Bridge of Sighs,' he thinks, 
" serve as a most effective foil to the melancholy theme," 
and are "not unlike the laughter of frenzied grief." I 
cannot agree with him here. To me there is nothing 
suggestive of laughter, or of frenzied grief, in 

One more unfortunate 
Weary of breath, 
Rashly importunate, 
Gone to her death ! 

The strain is rather that of tenderest sympathy and pity. 1 
The triple rhymes are in keeping with the dactylic meas- 

1 It will be remembered that the speaker is not supposed to be a parent or near relative 
of the hapless girl, but a stranger who is interested in her fate only as illustrating one phase 
of the lot of womanhood in the great city. 


lire, and are not markedly obtrusive. This dactylic 
measure, seldom used by our poets, is suited to quite 
opposite effects, as in this poem contrasted with Tenny- 
son's ' Charge of the Light Brigade,' or Longfellow's 
4 Skeleton in Armour.' 

Similarly, double rhymes are used with fine effect by 
Browning as by other poets in serious poems in trochaic 
measure, especially lyrical poems ; as in the exquisite song 
in * The Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' " There 's a woman like 
a dewdrop." And this measure, like the dactylic, may be 
vigorous and stirring, or soft and lulling, or meditative 
and mournful. 

In lighter pieces, like ' The Glove ' and ' The Flight 
of the Duchess,' the effect of the double and triple rhymes 
is in keeping with the free-and-easy style of the narration. 
In ' The Glove,' as Mr. Arthur Symons remarks in his 
' Introduction to Browning,' " It is worth noticing that 
in the lines spoken by the lady to Ronsard, and in these 
alone, the double rhymes are replaced by single ones, thus 
making a distinct severance between the earnestness of this 
one passage and the cynical wit of the rest." The critic 
might have pointed out a similar change to single rhymes 
in the gypsy's chant in ' The Flight of the Duchess.' The 
change, indeed, begins some ten lines before the chant, as 
if to prepare for it, or rather, as occasionally in other 
parts of the poem, it indicates the transition to a slightly 
more serious vein in the old huntsman's talk. 

4 Pacchiarotto ' seems to me little else than an illustra- 
tion of the poet's mastery of rhyme " run mad." As Mr. 
Symons says, it is " a whimsical freak of verse, an extra- 
vaganza in staccato," and " almost incomparable as a sus- 
tained effort in double and triple grotesque rhymes." We 
may allow ourselves to be amused by it as a piece of boy's 
play, but, for myself, I must confess that I rather tire of it 
before it is over. Let us be thankful that our poet only 
now and then gave way to such rhyming foolery. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, March 28, 1893.] 

AH, Clericus, what comfortable quarters you have ! It 
takes a pastor to know the best pastures. With your 
permission I '11 throw a couple of sticks on the fire while 
you fetch the pipes. What 's this, driftwood ! Well, in 
honour of my visit, you won't mind burning a few pieces. 
What a glorious blaze ! See that green flame trying to 
escape ! There 's a blue one chasing it ! Look at these 
violet and dun-coloured rays faring forth! Those mad 
orange and red spirits of flame suggest the Brocken on 
Walpurgis Nacht. Are you the Faust for my Mephis- 
tophelian spirit? 

Do you remember that poem of Robert Browning, I 
think it 's ' The Two Poets of Croisic,' where the friends 
call the flames after their poets and then watch their hold 
on ' earth's immortality ' ? A capital idea ! Better in 
conception, however, than in execution, as is often the 
case with him. If the poem had been compressed, say, 
put on the smaller canvas of ' A Forgiveness,' ' Andrea 
del Sarto,' or 'Ivan Ivanovitch,' the imagery of those 
flickering flames would give it a place in every collection. 
But the story is spun out like Penelope's web. Like so 
much of his work, it 's over-elaborated, it suggests Hamlet's 
comment on an earlier writer, 'Words, words, words.' 
He starts out with that novel and brilliant image, and I 
must confess to a disappointment and vexation that the 


whole poem does n't flash and sparkle like the driftwood 
on your hearth. 

By the way, did it ever occur to you, Clericus, that 
Browning made very little use of imagery? I don't be- 
lieve there are half a dozen really fine images in that vast 
collection of poetry ! I expected you 'd look incredulous. 
As a member of the Browning Society it 's your duty to 
look disgusted, and it doesn't require a clairvoyant to 
know you are just ready to say, ' Laicus, Laicus, you 're , 
a cold-blooded critic, without any bowels of compassion, 
and at the first sign of disease ready to strap the sufferer 
on the table and cut off the offending member.' Well, 
I admit that lago and I have one point in common. But 
the critic is as necessary as the artist. I shall never 
forget, however, your telling me that I was like a well- 
known Judge who always seemed vexed that he could n't 
decide against both sides. For a clergyman, Clericus, you 
do make some sharp speeches. But I have observed that 
most of you Browning students are like the adventurer in 
the Arabian Nights : he rubbed one eye with the magic 
ointment and saw all the treasures of the world ; and then, 
not content, he anointed the other eye only to become 
blind. It 's a good thing to have a critic about who can 
tell you when you 've rubbed enough. I mean it ; I don't 
believe there are a dozen really fine images in all his 
poems ; and I '11 prove it to you. Of course, when we 
speak of poetic imagery we don't refer to the common 
metaphorical language that is as much a property of our 
daily prose as it is of the Transcript poets. The poetical 
is not the prosaic whatever it may be, and the stock meta- 
phors of the profession are the veriest prose. By poetic 
imagery we mean a striking impersonation, some wonderful 
similitude, the transference of the qualities of one object 
to another ; something that at once arrests our attention, 
gives us a vivid picture, animates nature, personifies a 
passion, or paints man with the vocabulary of nature. 


Take that striking image from ' Macbeth,' and, by the 
way, a comparison of Browning and Shakespeare is fair 
because both are essentially dramatic poets, and surely you 
can ask no higher praise for your poet than to compare 
him with the prince of playwrights, that image of 
Macbeth murdering sleep. It 's wonderful ; that voice in 
the deep midnight crying, 

" Sleep no more ! 

Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep, 
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care. 

There you see in a flash all the long nights of agony and 
listless days of the conscience-stricken thane. That 's 
imagery unquestionably ; that 's the product of high 
imaginative power : the power of either incarnating prin- 
ciples and passions or animating the natural objects about 
us ; in a word, making the commonplace marvellous. 

To be sure, that picture of the storm in ' Pippa Passes ' 
is fine ; as fine as anything in Shakespeare. I 'm glad you 
mentioned it. Have I got the lines right ? 

Swift ran the searching tempest overhead ; 

And ever and anon some bright white shaft 

Burned thro' the pine-tree roof, here burned and there, 

As if God's messenger thro' the close wood screen 

Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture, 

Feeling for guilty thee and me : then broke 

The thunder like a whole sea overhead. 

Browning does n't use much imagery, but when he does 
it 's magnificent. That figure alone would mark him as 
a great dramatic poet. A marvellous picture, those 
crouching figures and the lightning strokes slashing 
through the thicket in search of the guilty couple. Dido 
and jEneas were more fortunate in their rendezvous ! 
Do you suppose Browning had Virgil in mind when he 
wrote tliis scene ? It 's certainly one of the things he has 
done best, for he is especially strong when he treats of the 
unconventional. I think he preferred leaving tame people 


for the tame poets ; he evidently wanted foemen worthy 
of his steel, and the people he most delighted in disarming, 
stripping of all protection of plumed helmet and embossed 
shield, and laying bare and bloody at Ms feet are not the 
conventional but the erratic members of society. And his 
power lay in this masterly analysis of men and motives. 
His characters, as some one has said, have a glass integ- 
ument and all the spiritual viscera can be seen. 

Yes, that 's a pretty little image at the end of ' Bishop 
Blougram's Apology,' 

While the great bishop rolled him out a mind 
Long rumpled, till creased consciousness lay smooth. 

The figure of the cabin passenger fitting up his little 
six by eight stateroom is clever enough, but the strength 
of this strong poem is in the marvellous art of self-explica- 
tion. The bishop, if you will permit the slang, 'gives 
himself away.' I always think of the poor fellow as 
hypnotised and forced to open all the closet doors of his 
life. And that 's a hard thing to happen to your profes- 
sion, Clericus. We laymen (perhaps I should say the 
laywomen) put you upon a pedestal ; but your own poet, 
Browning, lays you out on the table and dissects all your 
spiritual aspirations and aesthetic tastes until the heart of 
your mystery has ceased to beat. I think Browning was 
as rough on priests as Rabelais himself. He drew his 
monks with porcine or wolfish faces. Pardon the frank- 
ness, my dear fellow, but if you can't speak out of your 
heart before a blazing fire while this Turkish tobacco 
eddies away in spirals over your head, why, let 's for ever 
give up sincerity and be the well-bred idiots of conven- 
tional life. 

You 're making a good fight, my dear fellow ; that is 
a fine image in ' Rabbi Ben Ezra.' The potter's wheel is 
an old favourite. Ever since Isaiah set it spinning, the 
poets who took life seriously have given it an additional 


twirl. I agree with you that this is the finest use of it. 
I read it with just as much zest as if Omar Khayyam had 
never seen it, and St. Paul had not made it immortal. 
Yes, indeed, that's one of his fine images. Remember, 
I did n't say there were none. I only insist that they 're 
very few, and that we admire Browning for quite other 
things. Take the imagery of light in ' Numpholeptos,' or 
the musical figure in ' Abt Vogler ' : you may or may not 
understand them very well, but they show brilliant power. 
You remember that little description in 'James Lee's 
Wife ' of the rocks by the sea ? 

Oh, good gigantic smile o' the brown old earth, 
This autumn morning ! How he sets his bones 

To bask i' the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet 

For the ripple to run over in its mirth ; 

Listening the while, where on the heap of stones 

The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet. 

There 's something that will give the veriest clodhop- 
per a new impression of nature, a sense of kinship he 
never had before. How true it is, Clericus, that the 
summer boarder is often the peripatetic teacher of 
aesthetics ! And the poets perform the same office for us. 
They tell us what to see, and how to see it. They teach 
us to dilate with the proper emotion, like the Symphony 
librettos. Don't laugh ! I really mean it. It was 
Whittier's 'River Path' that opened my eyes to the 
beauty of this our world. 

Ah, you quote ' Fra Lippo ' aptly. It 's as true of 
poetry as painting. 

For, don't you mark 1 We 're made so that we love 
First when we see them painted, things we have passed 
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see. 

Why, Clericus, people don't begin to know the world, 

The beauty, and the wonder and the power, 

The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, 

Changes, Surprises, 




It disgusts me to see people straining every nerve to 
furnish a few rooms with plush furniture and Japanese 
bric-fc-brac while the gorgeous temple of Nature is always 
open. But this is preaching, and my specialty is criticism ! 
Revenons h nos moutons: I admit that Browning has 
some very striking imagery, but there is very little of it. 
Here 's the proof. What do you think of when his name 
is mentioned ? Is it his imagery ? No, it 's some grand 
phrase, or some vivid portraiture. Come now, what lines 
does his name suggest? 
Ah, I thought so : 

God 's in his heaven 
All 's right with the world ! 

Good, go on. 

What I aspired to be, 
And was not, comforts me. 

I count life just a stuff 

To try the soul's strength on. 

When the fight begins within himself, 
A man 's worth something. 

Yes, of course you can go on for a long time. My lines 
are different, but they are still grand sentiments thrown 
out to an expectant multitude that feels but cannot ex- 
press itself. For instance, 

God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures 
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with, 
One to show a woman when he loves her ! 

Or this, 

That 's the wise thrush ; he sings each song twice over, 
Lest you should think he> never could recapture 
The first fine careless rapture. 

There it is, Clericus; it is the sentiment that impresses 
us in Browning. Of course, he has plenty of the ordinary 
imagery that all poets use, the primary colours from which 
they get their more delicate hues or more glowing effects. 
But he cares a great deal more for what he is saying than 


for the way in which it is said, and as a result, the finest 
things he has written are some ringing lines on man's faith 
and love and spiritual progress. Now, turn to Shakespeare 
and at once it 's the great imagery that looms before you. 
If you think of ' The Merchant of Venice,' at once you see 
the moonlight sleeping on the bank while the sound of 
music creeps into the ears, and the "floor of heaven is 
thick inlaid with patines of bright gold." The whole 
play of ' Julius Ceesar ' is in the lines 

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world 
Like a Colossus, and we petty men 
Walk under his huge legs and peep about 
To find ourselves dishonourable graves. 

Can you think of Cardinal Wolsey except in that great 
figure ? 

I have ventured, 

Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders, 
This many summers in a sea of glory, 
But far beyond my depth : my high-blown pride 
At length broke under me, and now has left me, 
Weary and old with service, to the mercy 
Of a rude stream, that must for ever hide me. 

Does not ' As You Like It ' instantly remind you that 

All the world 's a stage, 

And all the men and women merely players ; 

and ' Hamlet ' suggest, 

A station like the herald Mercury 
New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill ; 

and is not Othello 

A fixed figure for the time of scorn 
To point his slow unmoving finger at? 

But I might go on all night with such illustrations. 
Shakespeare has married the thought to immortal imagery. 
The sentiment may become withered and barren as the 
mortal whose wife forgot to ask eternal youth for her 


lover, but the goddess of beauty pursues her way un- 
dimmed by age, ever fresh and immortal. There 's no 
such artist in words as Shakespeare. Why think of it, 
Clericus, Browning has undoubtedly written more lines, 
and yet how little is quotable ! I mean by his admirers, 
of course. 

There you sit, your head among the clouds, frowning 
like Jupiter Tonans. Well, I await the thunderbolt. I 
I 'm wrong I '11 admit it. Yes, it 's true that the figure in 
4 The Statue and the Bust ' tells the tale, 

And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost 
Is the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin. 

And that 's a fine image also in ' Paracelsus ' 

If I stoop 

Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud, 
It is but for a time ; I press God's lamp 
Close to my breast ; its splendour, soon or late, 
Will pierce the gloom ; I shall emerge one day. 

But such imagery is rare. It does not immediately 
occur to you. Nor do you find in Browning many of 
those felicitous phrases that poetic imagination delights in ; 
such as Shakespeare carelessly drops on the path of narra- 
tion, " an itching palm," " a kind of excellent, dumb dis- 
course," "the hungry edge of appetite," "marble-hearted 
fiend," "the glass of fashion," "a sea of upturned faces." 
Such poetic phrases are conspicuous by their absence in the 
modern poet. And where can you find single lines so 
fraught with meaning and filled with beauty as "Bare 
ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang," " One woe 
doth tread upon another's heel, so fast they follow," and, 
"He hates him much that would upon the rack of this 
tough world stretch him out longer " ? Now, my dear fel- 
low, that is imagery, and dramatic imagery. It 's the im- 
agery of man in action, man dissatisfied, toiling, restless, 


No, I don't think I 'm unfair ; stick to the point, my 
dear enthusiast. We 're talking about dramatic imagery, 
and I turn to Shakespeare as the highest authority. We 
both agree that these few nuggets from that vast quarry- 
are good specimens for study. They show us how to tell 
dramatic imagery ; and I find in Browning very little in- 
deed of such treasures. I don't expect to find all dia- 
monds in the same setting; but a diamond is always a 
diamond, whatever the jeweller's art. And so I restate my 
thesis, that as we usually understand imagery, Browning 
has very little of it. 

Oh, well, if that 's your revenge you 're welcome to it. 
It 's not a bad story. It may be that I do resemble that 
well-known free-trader who said to his students one day 
that he had been asked to state some of the arguments for 
Protection, and that he would be glad to do so if there 
were any. But I leave it to you, if it is not considerable 
of an effort for you to find brilliant, suggestive imagery in 
all those volumes of verse. The rough ore is there in 
great abundance. It 's like the Koh-i-noor before cutting 
and polishing. But if whole paragraphs of argument had 
been compressed into metaphor and simile we should have 
imagery only second to that of Shakespeare. 

Oh, yes, indeed ; certainly imagery has a larger meaning 
than mere similitude. It covers more than simile and 
metaphor. I admit that it can include vivid description, 
artistic portraiture ; in fact, any image or picture or repre- 
sentation the poet paints for us. For this very purpose the 
po^t is of * imagination all compact.' Your contention is, 
as I understand it, that those striking portraits he has 
painted in ' Fra Lippo Lippi,' * My Last Duchess,' ' A Fur- 
giveness,' 'Andrea del Sarto,' 'Soliloquy of the Spanish 
Cloister,' 'Ivan Ivanovitch,' and all the others, abound in 
imagery, and that the imagery is that of vivid description, 
an enduring image, to delignT~~Iie mind. Well, well! 
they are works of imagination, to be sure, as ' Hamlet ' and 


'Othello' are, as 'The Scarlet Letter' and 'Anna 
Kardnina ' are. And imagery is the product of the imagi- 
nation. But I don't know that vivid description is neces- 
sarily imagery. I think that there 's a distinction 
somewhere. Vivid description generally means realism, 
a scientific rather than a poetic treatment. Where 's some 
prose ? Just the thing ; take this little story of De 
Maupassant's ' The Confession ; ' here we shall find ' a 
clearly drawn picture. Let me read it to you. You 
remember the old Marguerite was dying, and could not 
rest until she confessed the murder of her sister's lover 
many, many years ago when she was but a little girl. 

" ' There, dost thou know what I did ? Listen. I had seen 
the gardener making little balls to kill strange dogs. He pow- 
dered up a bottle with a stone and put the powdered glass 
in a' little ball of meat. I took a little medicine bottle that 
mamma had ; I broke it small with a hammer, and I hid the 
glass in my pocket. It was a shining powder. The next day, 
as soon as you had made the little cakes, I split them with 
a knife and I put in the glass He ate three of them I 
too, I ate one I threw the other six into the pond. The two 
swans died three days after Dost thou remember ? Oh, say 
nothing Listen, listen. I, I alone did not die, but I have 
always been sick. Listen.' She was silent, and remained 
panting, always scratching the sheet with her withered nails." 

It 's horrible, is n't it ? I think I see the old woman 
clutching the sheets and gasping for breath while she 
breaks her sister's heart. It 's just such a picture as 
Browning gives us in ' My Last Duchess,' ' A Forgive- 
ness,' 'The Laboratory,' and similar poems. It's vivid 
enough, Heaven knows, and there 's a new picture indel- 
ibly stamped on our mind. But it 's the realism that does 
it. Here 's a line or two from ' A Forgiveness.' 

" Would my blood for ink suffice? " 

" It may ; this minion from a land of spice, 


Silk, feather every bird of jewelled breast, 
This poignard's beauty, ne'er so lightly prest 
Above your heart there." 

" Thus? " 

" It flows, I see. 
Dip there the point and write ! " 

She died ere morning ; then I saw how pale 
Her cheek was ere it wore day's paint disguise, 
And what a hollow darkened 'neath her eyes, 
Now that I used my own. She sleeps, as erst 
Beloved, in this your church : ay, yours ! 

In these pictures it 's the attention to detail that is 
remarkable. Browning is not an impressionist who ropes 
off his picture and insists upon the long perspective for his 
splashes of colour. His work is microscopic in its nature ; 
you may stand in front of the painting and use your 
lorgnette as much as you will. But there is very little 
imagery there. Analyse such a poem as ' A Forgiveness,' 
and you will see that its power is due to three causes : 
first, its thrilling story ; second, its dramatic form ; third, 
the fulness of detail. Browning is a realist, that is, he 
gives you abundance of details. I think you observe this 
more clearly if you compare ' A Forgiveness ' with ' My 
Last Duchess.' The subjects are similar, the treatment 
similar. But ' My Last Duchess ' is the greater poem 
because there are fewer details. Suggestion overpowers 
description. It 's a gem for a royal collection. Its value 
lies in the dramatic situation, the vivid description and the 
concentration of power. It 's a work of the imagination ; 
but it has no imagery. You can't call a whole poem 
imagery. It 's a portrait, a picture, an image, but not 
imagery. . 

I don't see why you should feel vexed. I do have the 
appreciative spirit. I admire Browning. My wife makes 
me go to church with her Sunday morning (pardon the 
frankness, my dear fellow), but in the evening she plays 
Wagner and I read Browning. I like those Venetian 


beauties and their imperious lords. Those were days when 
married men had some rights their wives were bound to 
respect. The advanced woman was not then evolved. 
Browning is a great artist and in nothing is his art more 
evident than in these little dramatic poems, portraits of 
lawless men and more lawless women. But his gift is his 
power to breathe the breath of life into them. They live, 
they move, they speak. Sometimes, they talk too much ; 
that 's the danger of clever people. Macaulay was often 
called to order by Lady Holland, and, as a rule, their 
admirers preferred Coleridge, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Landor, 
and Dr. Johnson in small doses. Even the lovely Pom- 
pilia and the good old Pope talk too much, while Sludge 
and Blougram, Pamphylax, Fra Lippi, and dear David, too, 
tax our patience. But still, it is the monologue Browning 
uses so effectively that is the principal charm of the poems. 
It 's easily verified. Analyse the poems and it 's their 
dramatic form and realistic touches that impress you. 
You remember the thrilling story, but rarely are there 
special lines or words of description that linger in the 

My dear fellow, you ought to have been a lawyer. 
Your pertinacity is equal to mine. Come, I '11 give you a 
desk in my office and we '11 hang out a fresh shingle, 
Clericus and Laicus, Attorneys at Law, and Adjudicators 
in Causas hereticas. Of course there 's a great differ- 
ence between the restrained description of ' My Last 
Duchess' and the abounding details, the picturesque 
descriptions of nature, as in 'Saul' for instance. You 
claim that those beautiful ringing lines of the pastoral life 
of David and again the hunter's joys and the picture of the 
new earth as David stole tentward in the early dawn, weary, 
awed and exultant from his struggle with death, are 
imagery of a high order. Well ! you press me hard, I 
admit it. It is ornament to the narrative. A description 
of nature, or of man, that embellishes, enhances, enriches 



a story that is being told, is, of course, imagery. The de- 
scription of , the furniture, weapons, social life of husband 
and wife in ' A Forgiveness ' is not imagery, but merely 
the details of a circumstantial narrative. Nature, as de- 
scribed in ' Saul,' and more especially in ' Childe Roland,' 
is animated in the first place, and in the second place dis- 
tinctively used for the enrichment of the poem. I have 
been talking, you know my habit, to clear my own thought. 
Imagery, I think, is rather a vague word with us. It 's 
not imagination, but one of the products of imagination. 
" Imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown." 
Imagery is the decorated drapery put upon the forms. ' A 
Midsummer Night's Dream ' is a work of imagination, and 
such lines in it as 

The rnde sea grew civil at her song, 
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres 
To hear the sea-maid's music 

are imagery. Of this imagery Browning has given us 
very little ; some very fine lines, however, which we could 
ill spare, as for instance, 

I crossed a ridge of short, sharp, broken hills, 
Like an old lion's cheek teeth ; 

and .that line from ' One Word More ' 

like some portent of an ice berg 
Swimming full upon the ship it founders, 
Hungry with huge teeth of splintered crystals, 

arid then that very well-known one, 

She lies in my hand as tame 
As a pear late basking over a wall ; 
Just a touch to try and off it came. 

As I say, there 's very little of this magical touch that 
Shakespeare had in perfection. But 4 Childe Roland ' even 
better than ' Saul ' or ' James Lee's Wife ' has a fine ani- 
mated description of nature that is imagery of a high order. 
Browning is oae of the great masters of imaginative litera- 


ture, and ' Cliilde Roland,' in dramatic interest, in vivid 
portrayal, and in the confusion of the natural and the 
supernatural, ranks with ' The Haven,' ' Tarn O'Shanter,' 
'Christabel' and 'The Ancient Mariner.' It is nature 
that you see in the grey plain and close-locked hills, but 
nature seen through the Devil's spectacles. Take such a 
picture as this 

As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair 
In leprosy ; thin dry blades pricked the mud 
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood 

or the crawling river 

So petty yet so spiteful ! All along, 
Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it ; 
Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit 
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng ; 

and that awesome image at the close 

The dying sunset kindled through a cleft ; 
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay, 
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay, 
" Now stab and end the creature to the heft ! " 

Yes, it 's a marvellous poem, and shows a master's touch. 
When you analyse it, however, there 's nothing that could 
not be said of our New England sceneiy. That weird, 
uncanny, supernatural effect is the magician's power that 
animates plain and hill, tree and brook and bat with the 
direful traits of human nature. You can read the fears 
and fateful memories of the Paladin in the sympathetic 
world about him. It 's like studying the enlarged heads 
of photography. The rushing verse, the grey garb of 
nature and the language of fear suit the stirring subject. 
You may be surprised to hear me say that I admire the 
restraint of this poem. There is a great concentration of 
power in this succession of pictures, seen by flashes of poetic 
lightning. There 's a difference between driving your 
imagination and letting it drive you. When Shakespeare 
and Browning fall they have used the spur too vigorously. 



Browning, especially, has often ridden too furiously, and 
man and beast seem jaded. At times he seems to have as 
little control of his steed as John Gilpin in his memorable 
ride. But in ' Childe Roland,' the concentration, the re- 
straint, the reserved power, makes the allegory one of the 
great tone pictures of literature. Suggestion and descrip- 
tion are equally and happily employed. 

How true that is, Clericus ! I feel it myself. It does 
suggest the Fifth Symphony. It gives you that same 
sense of struggle, physical defeat and spiritual triumph. 
What was that text you quoted ? " Though our outward 
man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." 
A great verse that, worthy such an illustration ! Brown- 
ing is a stimulating writer, he makes you think. And 
this poem of weird imagery and unconquerable spirit will 
long be an inspiration, " a golden apple in a silver picture." 
Imagery is a great gift ; " and yet show I unto you a more 
excellent way," he seems to say to his readers. 

Imaginative power is the highest test of the poet, Cler- 
icus. It means the creative gift. Not all the artists, not 
all the treasures of the kingdom, could complete the unfin- 
ished window of the palace that the slaves of the lamp 
reared in a single night. The master is known by his 

And as imagination bodies forth 
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen 
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing 
A local habitation and a name. 

That is the secret of the strength of all the great 
writers this power of seeing by the mind's eye all the 
details of Comedy or Tragedy luminous in the solitude of 
their own thought. It was this vivid imagination that 
drove Dickens through the wind and rain of Parisian 
streets haunted by the pathetic figure of Little Nell ; that 
made Sardou shake with sobs and hysterical laughter as he 
read his plays to the Come'die Franqaise ; that peopled the 


rocks of Guernsey with the discontented, seething life of 
Paris as Victor Hugo wrote ' Les Miserables.' Jb4-4iihis 
overpowering vision of what really exists in man's spiritual 
life that can alone explain the great pictures of Isaiah, Dante, 
Shakespeare, Browning. For your poet had it ; his demon 
ruled him, and when the mood was on he threw off the 
robes of reserve and prophesied with inspired tongue. It 
is a great thing to give life to Othello, Lear, Hamlet, 
Juliet. It is a great thing to give life to Blougram, 
Caliban, Guido, Pompilia. " Such tricks hath strong 
imagination ! " 

What is imagination? I must fall back upon Shake- 
speare. It " bodies forth the forms of things unknown." 
It is the creative power of Michael Angelo, of Beethoven, 
of Shakespeare. You remember Mrs. Shelley's definition 
that originality created out of chaos, not out of the 
void. Out of all the possible experiences of life the poet 
selects, combines and gives form to what was before vague 
and formless. His spirit broods over chaos and a world is 
born. By the way, I came across the statement lately that 
in, this century there had been only four great imaginative 
writers, Miche'let, whose special power was emotional, 
Hugo, whose gift was dramatic, Carlyle with his prophetic 
outlook and Walt Whitman with his cosmic consciousness. 
There is a classification of imagination that may help. J 
should say that Browning had the last pre-eminently ; for 
certainly no one, not even King- William himself, has 
struggled so often and so well with the great problems of 
the world God, Duty, Evil, Beauty, Freedom, Immor- 
tality, Christ as this poet of our century. His power is 
<(>&. uric and emotional. His characters live and move and 
have their being, and in their successes and failures we see 
the great laws of the spiritual universe. 

Are you satisfied, my dear fellow?. Am I just? Far be 
it from me to underestimate a poet who has done so much 
for me I I admire him for the affluence of his nature that 


loves the sinner as well as the saint, for those splendid 
affirmations of faith, for his rare imagination. But as I 
have tried to point out, in his dramatic poems he makes 
his impression not by the free use of brilliant imagery, 
indeed there is very little o^ it ; but by the dramatic situa- 
tion, the wealth of detail, and the spirited monologue. 

I see you won't admit I 'm right. Well, argument never 
convinces. Besides, the coals are dying and my pipe is 
again empty. Another time. Good-night. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, April 25, 1893.] 

Is there a more potential moment in the life of England 
than that which poises, in even scales, the struggle 
between the king's prerogative and the people's will ? Is 
there another man than Strafford who so perfectly incar- 
nates the fated issue of that portentous clash of the old 
with the new ? It is this moment that Browning selects 
for the opening of his first stage-play ; it is this man he 
makes its protagonist. 

The subject he chose has been called difficult. Its great 
difficulty consists, I think, in the peculiarly modern qual- 
ity of its motive, and in the fact that an original path for 
it had to be struck out. Fate steers the action of the 
Greek tragedies through the personal adventures of the 
heroes of famous houses. Revenge, reconciliation, pride, 
ambition, passion, dominate the later European drama, or 
that punctilio of " honour " which Spanish playwrights 
introduced and which has been cunningly appropriated by 
France no less in the romantic drama of Victor Hugo than 
in the classic drama of Corneille. What road in common 
have such plays of family or personal interest with the 
play whose attempt must be to show personal interests 
and abilities in the vague grasp of an impersonal and 
unrecognised until then an almost unexistent 
power ? 


" The main interest of Strafford's career," says the able 
historian of this period, Mr. Gardiner, " is political, and to 
write a political play ' non di, non homines, non conccssere 
columnce.' The interest of politics is mainly indirect. 
Strafford is impeached not merely because he is hated, or 
because he has done evil things, but because he is expected 
to do more evil things. Such possibilities of future evil 
which the historian is bound to consider, are, however, 
essentially undramatic." 

'Strafford' rests under this adverse cloud of pre-con- 
ceived opinion as to the capabilities of art. Yet, in the 
light which Browning's genius has shed upon these " pos- 
sibilities of future evil," I believe a new fact in the devel- 
opment of dramatic craft may be descried which promises 
to show that they are not necessarily undramatic. 

The Nemesis that brooded over and foreshadowed the 
outcome of the Greek tragedies shapes forth a dramatic 
effect most moving and intense. The Northern Nemesis 
the Nemesis of Conscience that Shakespeare adapted to 
his service tended to like resistless and predestinate effect. 
Both find a sister of their own gigantic disembodied kind 
where, but in the obscure shape met at the very threshold 
of 4 Strafford,' whose undescried presence fills the structure 
and the onset of the piece with omens of her energy, and 
closes the tragedy, at last, in pity and in terror, but in 
exultation, too, with the clear perception of her power? 
Her name is " England's fate, " her champion is Pym, her 
half-unwitting enemy is Strafford, her manifestation is the 
growing potency of the people exerted against the coun- 
cillor and the king who oppose her future possibilities of 
good. Her shape is new, her relationship with her well- 
known lordly sisters of Hellenic and Shakespearian drama 
is not yet all traced out ; but are not the marks of her 
dramatic kinship sure ? 

The antique fate that animates events in ^Eschylus, that 
breathes submission in Sophocles, that, in Euripides, knows 


how to reconcile itself with revolt and change, for " the 
gods bring to pass many divine things in an unexpected 
manner; both what has been expected has been accom- 
plished, and God has found out a means for doing things 
unthought for," is in Shakespeare modernised to work, 
subjectively, within the actions and history of the indi- 
vidual character. Thus in the course of the dramatic 
evolution fate becomes moral choice. In this play of 
Browning's it is modernised still more. It becomes human 
will : the will for the Ideal. But it is remarkable that in 
the guise it wears in such a play as ' Strafford ' it tends 
both to old and new dramatic effects. For it is expressed 
no less in the actions and history of the individual char- 
acter than in the larger processes of a great social move- 
ment. Such movements, to a poet like Browning, are 
after all not impersonal but personal. They are the com- 
plex issue of many human wills. Personality, then, really 
holds sway over the "possibilities of the future" as it 
does over the private course of every single action in the 
struggle. The poet's use, therefore, in this play, of these 
" possibilities of the future " is not abstract and historical, 
but living and dramatic. 

Browning uses ideas to differentiate them. He is never 
a direct borrower, yet one can sometimes detect or suspect 
the influence upon him of two great English poets, 
Shakespeare and Shelley. 

It is of interest to remember that Shelley had once 
chosen Charles I. as the subject of a drama he never com- 
pleted, and Browning's early devotion to the ardent young 
poet leaves one room to suppose that he did not pass that 
fragment by unnoticed. But the centre of action in 
Shelley's unfinished draft is the opposite of that Browning 
chooses. King Charles himself as lover Henrietta 
Maria's luckless influence over him, that is is to be the 
dramatic motive, so far as one may judge from the frag- 
ment left us. The tragedy is to be pivoted within the 


court circle, not motived conspicuously outside it in the 
hidden power of the people. In fine, the poet of spiritual 
revolt seems to be preparing to treat this moment, big 
with the destiny of democracy, in a manner that belongs 
to the elder way of writing, suited to feudal customs and 
those classic fashions Aristotle prescribes when he shows 
how the subjects of tragedy should not be ignoble or 
unknown, but selected from the familiar legends of mighty 

Strong as Shelley's sympathies were with the new order 
and were planned to be shown, no doubt, in the whole 
of this interrupted piece his art was not yet free to wing 
its flight as its dreams willed. It is necessarily a later 
day of the world when Browning chooses the master-force 
of his play from a mighty house, indeed, O, Aristotle ! 
although its legends and adventures are even yet more 
unfamiliar than those of royalty, from the rising house 
of the people. In shaping his art in consonance with his 
motive-force the poet makes his craft as fresh and new a 
source of interest as the issue of the events he tells. 

Shakespeare, in the only play dealing with a political 
interest at all comparable to that which holds sway in 
* Strafford,' has alone indicated the way whose general 
direction Browning has followed independently and often 
divergently, as his need was. 

' Julius Caesar ' opens on a scene with the Roman 
Rabble, as ' Strafford ' does on a scene with the English 
Faction. The rabble is ignorant and unstable, the faction 
is intelligent and capable of self-control ; yet the rabble 
is designated in Shakespeare, no less than the faction in 
Browning, as the background of power, the Court of 
Appeal, in whose hands the future rests uncertain. Before 
the people the decision is placed, later, in both plays : in 
' Caesar ' after the death of Julius ; in ' Strafford ' at the 
time of the earl's trial. Each play makes its close refer to 
a political future which has hung from the first upon the 



tragic fate of the man against whom the action proceeds. 
The sympathies implied are not the same. The compari- 
son, in many respects, results in contrast. What is similar, 
to some degree, is the general dramatic structure; what 
is dissimilar is the material, and the . moral issue of the 
story. Both Brutus and Pym are friends of the men they 
resolve to sacrifice for love of country. Brutus is the 
hero of ' Julius Csesar,' much as Pym is the hero of ' Straf- 
ford ' ; but Brutus, presently, divides this honour with 
Antony, as champion and representative of the dead 
Csesar, and the whole play takes a turn whose direction 
is grounded on the fickle purpose of the people. The 
ghost of Csesar then grows powerful. That royal spirit 
holds the lordship of the future, and therefore is impres- 
sive. With the imperial ghost is the final victory, and 
the principle is maintained against which Brutus fought. 
The result of the whole is not to ennoble Caesar's person- 
ality, but to assert Csesar's principle. 

In ' Strafford ' Browning works similarly just far enough 
to make the difference more striking. Pym's leadership 
continues unshaken because it is grounded on the stead- 
fast purpose of the Parliamentarians, instead of on the 
fickle nature of the Rabble as Brutus's is ; not even Straf- 
ford's great ability, therefore, and the pity his misfortunes 
and his nobleness justly excite, can swerve Pym's stroke 
aside. The weak and inefficient rdle of the people, in 
4 Csesar,' is, in ' Strafford,' the weak and inefficient rdle of 
the king ; and Charles's champion, Strafford, is made per- 
sonally interesting and luckless throughout, as the noble 
exponent of a mistaken policy, just as Brutus, champion 
of the people, is in ' Csesar.' Pym stands for much the 
same sort of sacrifice as Brutus, he makes the same 
choice between the good of his country and the ill-fate 
of his friend; but, as the play goes on, and in the con- 
summation of his sacrifices of his friendship and his 
friend for England's sake, Pym grows less strong per- 


sonally, and more and more identified with the principle 
he asserts. 

Caesar and Caesar's principle conquer in ' Julius Csesar.' 
Pym and Pym's principle conquer in ' Strafford.' 

Shakespeare, one may suppose, felt the mockery of 
Brutus's struggle since he showed him thus as one who 

From desperate fighting, with a little band, 
Against the powerful tyrant of the land, 
To free his brethren in their own despite, 
Awoke from day-dreams to this real night. 

Browning, on the contrary, one may suppose, feels noth- 
ing of the futile or unwise in Pym's battle to free his 
brethren, since he shows them as impelling and sustaining 
his course, and paints him as one whose ideal was not a 
vain one while unflinchingly he obeyed its lofty beckoning, 
although his heart was rent and emptied and made marble. 

It is not alone historic truth that makes these two plays 
end as they do, - Shakespeare's with Caesar's impersonal 
triumph, Browning's with Pym's equally impersonal 
triumph. With events as they are, in each case, they 
might have been construed differently. Shakespeare 
shows his dramatic design in turning his weak and peevish 
Caesar into an almost contradictory mighty Caesar who 
speaks through Antony's golden mouth and ranges as an 
angry ghost in the remorseful ill-foreboding heart of 
Brutus, to the end that Caesar's political principle shall 
survive and lay its impress on the future ; Browning 
shows his design dramatically, no less, I think, in making 
Pym embody England's will and crush himself as well as 
Strafford under the footsteps of her mightier fate. 

An able writer on Shakespeare's dramatic art, Mr. 
Denton Snider, considers that Shakespeare's sympathies 
were decidedly conservative ; and he adds, moreover, that 
they had to be so " to make him a great dramatic poet." 
Certainly Shakespeare did not have the same open sym- 
pathies with the promise of popular power that Browning's 


construal of the events of ' Strafford ' exhibits ; but one 
scarcely can forget that no one had, that the whole 
range of ideas which Browning loves to dwell upon were 
yet to be evolved ; and the facts remain that Shakespeare 
chose so unique a subject as ' Julius Caesar ' presents for a 
drama ; that he did not make a hero of Julius Caesar, but 
rather made heroic the principle he represented ; and, 
furthermore, that the principle is one as the philosophic 
historian, Mommsen, has demonstrated which was really 
more closely identified with the welfare and freedom of 
the people of the Roman Empire at large than the rule of 
the urban aristocracy whom Brutus represented. Shake- 
speare did, then, express the most liberal tendencies, the 
most enlightened view possible in his day. That his mode 
of procedure has somewhat of importance in common with 
BroAvning's I have pointed out in order to demonstrate 
how far the shining glance of the poet outruns the care- 
ful pace of historical and critical wisdom. Study of the 
development of literary ideals proves how unsafe it is to 
decide off-hand what genius cannot do. 

In the first act of ' Strafford,' the protasis as the rhetori- 
cians of the drama call it, the exposition of its motive- 
forces is unerringly given. Not a trait is too much or 
too meagre for the plan. The curtain rises on a " stealthy 
gathering of great-hearted men " in " an obscure small 
room " where broods the motive of all the future conflict, 
the hidden evolving power of the people embodied in 
this gathering of patriots, and rising to a head in Pym, 
just as in Went worth is summed up the opposed ability 
alone capable of " so heartening Charles," as Vane puts 
it, that " England shall crouch, or catch at us and rise." 

The first note of the conflict Vane strikes sharply. 
What is it? It is fear of Wentworth's will and skill. " I 
say if he be here," Vane bursts out ; " And he is here," 
grumbles Rudyard. The king at this moment, indeed, 
calls to his side the able President of the North to counsel 


him in the larger concerns of his troubled kingdom. This 
news sets the future brewing. It is a scene almost of 
mutiny against the caution of Hollis, the forbearance of 
Hampden, and Pym's unwillingness to disbelieve in Went- 
worth. The disorder, and the apprehension of Went- 
worth's power against England, which master the hour, is 
suppressed only by the conviction that " One rash conclu- 
sion may decide our cause, and with it England's fate." 

At these first words Browning cleaves to the heart of 
the action. The large outlines prefiguring England's fate 
are co-extensive, however, with subtler, more narrowly and 
warmly human interests. 

Vane, who breaks the word to the audience of the wary 
watch England is keeping on Wentworth, tells, also, the 
story of Pym's and Wentworth's ancient friendship. His 
account of the meeting of these two men at Greenwich 
prefigures the tragedy, and identifies Pym with the oncom- 
ing opposition to Strafford. It points, too, to Pym's own 
heart as the field of a conflict between love and conscience, 
between the yearning of a mighty friendship and his 
soul's best fealty to a lofty vision of England's future 

This is one of the strokes of the poet which show how 
infinitely closer is his touch on life than the colder groping 
of the historian. Mr. Gardiner feels bound to warn us 
that Pym never had such a friendship for Strafford as he 
is represented as having ; and he tells us this because he 
cannot find it set forth weightily in the records as it is in 
the play. The personal motive is always rightly the poet's 
affair of the imagination, not the historian's matter of fact. 
But, besides the story of the early intimacy and the anec- 
dote of the Greenwich meeting told by Dr. Welwood in 
his Memoirs, and from which Browning, or Browning and 
Foster, took it, there are passages in Strafford's last 
speeches which imply the reality of the old friendship, in 
a way that need not cause one to scruple about yielding 


the poet this cherished rich red thread of human feeling 
to weave in with the larger pattern of his wide web. Mr. 
Gardiner, indeed, though he gives it no certificate, does 
not grudge it to him ; he wisely adds that, rather than 
point it out as erroneous, we will do better to ask the end 
it serves, and what higher truth of character results. 

If this conflict within Pym's heart is not true it ought 
to be ; if we have not a historian's warrant for it we have 
what 's better, a poet's need of it to signify a higher 
guarantee of its probable truth than annalists are able to 
sign and seal us with their doubtful facts. And is it not 
true, then, true to the life, that in large actions which the 
world remembers long the pulse of personal love once beat 
devotedly? In the thick of the ferment what attractions 
and repulsions, what impervious hearts, what loyal souls ! 
Word of not half this spiritual energy reaches the ready 
misquoting ear of rumour, yet the most unknown of such 
potencies plays its part and is registered silently in the 

This inner human truth underlies the events Browning 
dramatises. Pym's true-hearted yearning over Went- 
worth ; Lady Carlisle's admiring self-ignoring devotion to 
the earl; the earl's fascinated loyalty to the king; the 
king's slavery to the slightest displeasure of his wilful 
queen, these close-linked springs of inward action are 
revealed one after the other in the first act of the play, 
and warn us of the presence of forces of the heart whose 
interplay is to humanise and enrich the huge march 
onward of the master-motive, England's future. 

The second act presents the epitasis, or tightening, of 
the plot. Precedence is yielded here, as in the first act, to 
the larger social motive, the first scene depicting the exas- 
peration of the leaders against Strafford's skilful ministry 
on the king's behalf, and preparing the way for their 
meeting, face to face, with the earl in the second scene. 
From the violence of his reproaches of the faithless king, 


the interruption of Pym and his companions recalls Straf- 
ford's loyal service to the king for ever, and the same 
instant fixes Pym's eye upon him, henceforth, as foe not 
friend to England. No hesitation is henceforth possible ; 
and now, in the third act, comes the clash. 

Stratford goes to his fate flushed with the certainty of 
triumph. " Pym shall not ward the blow " he plans, 
" nor Savile creep aside from it ! The Crew and the 
Cabal I crush them." What quite other thing occurs 
the audience learns from a scene whose arrangement fits 
in strikingly with Browning's dramatic scheme. The 
proceedings are witnessed not from inside the House, but 
outside, with the waiting mob in the ante-chamber, as if 
the populace always represented in ' Straff or d ' as the 
main power, whose bidding Pym and Hampden but inter- 
pret were the supreme factor of the event. The stormy 
sea of the two parties is shown in ceaseless commotion. 
Puritan and Cavalier ride to victory with exultation, and 
each tastes the triumph but one side may enjoy, when, at 
last, with the rage of the righteous comes the text of the 
Puritans, one of the most effective of the scriptural out- 
bursts used to such picturesque purpose throughout the 

play : 

The Lord hath broken the staff of the wicked ! 
The sceptre of the rulers, he who smote 
The people in wrath with a continual stroke, 
That ruled the nations in his auger he 
Is persecuted and none hindereth ! 

and Strafford issues, with the scorn of men behind him, 
impeached and insulted. 

Most plays drag a little after such a climax is reached, 
but the usual downward movement of fourth acts is in this 
fourth act rather onward than downward. The action 
halts splendidly in the trial scene, only to gather head 
again for the next steps of attainder on the side of attack, 
of respite or rescue on the side of the defence. 

I have heard the trial-scene censured for what seems to 


me, in view of Browning's main motive, a token of its 
great originality and most appropriate art. The censure 
was that this scene should have been laid in the court 
itself, and that the chance should not have been lost of 
giving Pyni's speech and Strafford's defence. It would 
have been a more panoramic spectacle ; it would have 
been more oratorical ; it would have given greater promi- 
nence to the single figures of the strife, ignoring what 
would ordinarily be considered the unimportant super- 
numerary bystanders. The effect would have been more 
in accord with dramatic precedent. But Browning chose 
rather, I believe, to give the broken talk about the trial as 
it fell from the lips of the people whom it so deeply con- 
cerned, and who so substantially sustained it both in its 
inception and its issue. He framed his craft in this scene 
in order to bring it in close harmony with his larger 
motive. It suits new conditions of social life and an 
original purpose in art. 

The last act gathers to a focus all the sunny threads of 
human interest that irradiate the play. Lady Carlisle's 
affection plans Strafford's escape from the Tower, while 
he sits in prison with his children about him, for a breath- 
ing-space, at peace, in an island of childish song and 
prattle, till Hollis brings him word that the king has failed 
him utterly and the scaffold waits. Strafford's last act of 
loyalty is then consummated, to yield assent to his own 
death and forgiveness to the king. He did this by letter 
in the records ; in the play it is shown more forcibly. A 
masked attendant enters with Hollis. It is the king. 
Every word of Straff ord stings him, most of all his loyal- 
hearted excuses for him. Lady Carlisle's love is stanch 
enough to dare to save Strafford, and her plan of rescue 
is ready to be carried out ; but Pym's love stays fast and 
last. His prophecy holds good. 

Strafford. Not this way ! 

This gate I dreamed of it, this very gate. 


Lady Carlisle. It opens on the river : our good boat 

Is moored below, our friends are there. 

Straf. The same : 

Only with something ominous and dark, 

Fatal, inevitable. 

Not by this gate ! I feel what will be there ! 

I dreamed of it, I tell you : touch it not ! 

Lady Car. To save the King, Strafford, to save the King ! 

[As STRAFFORU opens the door, PYM is discovered with HAMPDEN, 

VANE, etc. STRAFFORD falls back; PYM follows slowly and 

confronts him.] 

Pym. Have I done well ? Speak, England ! Whose sole sake 
I still have laboured for, with disregard 
To my own heart, for whom my youth was made 
Barren, my manhood waste, to offer up 
Her sacrifice this friend, this Wentworth here 
Who walked in youth with me, loved me, it may be, 
And whom for his forsaking England's cause, 
I hunted by all means (trusting that she 
Would sanctify all means) even to the block 
Which waits for him. 

I render up my charge (be witness God ! ) 
To England who imposed it. ... 
I never loved but one man David not 
More Jonathan ! Even thus, I love him now : 
And look for my chief portion in that world 
Where great hearts led astray are turned again. 

This is no meeting, Wentworth ! Tears increase 
Too hot. A thin mist is it blood ? enwraps 
The face I loved once. Then, the meeting be ! 

But the end is not yet rounded out. Stratford's personal 
devotion to the king, in which Browning embodies the 
great feudal virtue, loyalty to the liege, fights yet to 
the last gasp against the new political virtue, belief in 
the people, and most against the horror of the last 
obstacle Pym shall remove from the path of England's 

Oh, my fate is nothing 
Nothing ! But not that awful head not that ! 

pleads Strafford. Pym replies " If England shall de- 
clare such will to me " 



" Pym, you help England ! " falters Strafford, van- 
quished ; yet only for an instant. He breaks out again 
consistently into a last agony of prayer for Charles : 

No, not for England now, not for Heaven now, 

See, Pym, for my sake, mine who kneel to you ! 

There, I will thank you for the death, my friend ! 

This is the meeting : let me love you well ! 

Pym. England, I am thine own ! Dost thou exact 

That service ? I obey thee to the end. 

Straf. O God, I shall die first I shall die first ! 

" Possibilities of future evil," against which Pym guards 
England, thus destroy Strafford and with grim certainty 
shadow forth his royal master's doom. Stubborn political 
impersonalities are made plastic by the poet's incarnation 
of them in loving souls. 

Is it, indeed, impossible for the dramatist to depict 
liberal tendencies ? No. He puts them not into words 
but into struggling hearts, conflicting wills, and lo ! the 
drama is wrought. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Oct. 24, 1893.] 

THERE is perhaps no lesson which the literary critic should 
lay to heart more constantly than that of estimating differ- 
ent poets in different ways and according to different 
standards. Every great poet is, in the main, his own 
criterion, and is to be truly seen only in his own light. 
Philosophers fall into schools, and scientific men into 
groups and classes. Not that they lack individuality, 
no effective thinker can lack this, but that the qualities 
they have in common are more on the surface than their 
distinctive differences. But the poets resist all grouping 
and classification, unless they are small and imitative. 
Each great poet stands by himself like a Greek god, iso- 
lated from all others by his own peculiar perfection. No 
doubt he is the child of his time and his people just as 
much as the scientific man, and he is possible only through 
antecedents and environment like all others. But such is 
the freedom and the power of the spirit which breathes in 
him that he always comes as a sudden surprise, rising ex 
abrupto from the common level of the life of his age, like a 
mountain from the plain. He is always unique. Nature, 
having produced him (as an old author said of Shake- 
speare), breaks the mould. Chaucer is like no other, nor is 
Spenser, or Milton, or Wordsworth, or Browning. They 
learn from one another, of course. Each of them "ran- 
sacks the ages and spoils the climes," and derives from his 
brother poet the inspiration he can get nowhere else. 


Nevertheless, what they give is far more manifest and 
more important than what they get ; for every great poet 
adds some new quality to our literature. He puts a new 
string to the lyre, and the ear of the true critic will always 
catch the new note in the great orchestra. Not one of 
them can be truly said to continue the work of his prede- 
cessor in the same way as scientific men or philosophers 
do. The light of science broadens gradually into noon ; 
but the great poets come out like the stars, sudden 
points of brightness in the dark sky. What the scientific 
man leaves unfinished his successor may carry nearer com- 
pletion; but a fragment left by a dead poet remains a 
fragment to the end of time. The broken columns of 
science may be fitted into the growing structure of knowl- 
edge ; but what the artist leaves incomplete can only be 
desecrated by another hand. 

The universal element, the common feature, has little 
value in art ; it becomes a thin abstraction, and misses the 
ripe red at the core. Individuality is everything ; and 
individuality is the universal wedded to the particular, the 
unity breathing itself into every detail and making of the 
whole a harmony. 

On this account, even the broader classifications of the 
poets are often misleading and nearly always unsatis- 
factory ; for they necessitate the comparison of one poet 
with another. While comparison may be necessary and 
helpful to us as we approach the poet, it is an annoyance 
and a hindrance once we have reached him. Each poet, 
nay, each poem, must win us for its own sake. It is, for 
the time being, like the object we love, all the world for 
us ; for " fine art is always free," its own beginning and end, 
and motive and purpose, and its own law. Speaking gen- 
erally, we may say that a writer is a dramatic, a lyric, or 
an epic poet; but if we leave apart the great types, even 
this broad classification is apt to be as misleading as it is 


I find this to be the case with Browning in particular. 
In contrast with Wordsworth, who is at once the most 
personal and the most impersonal of all our poets, occupied 
with his own moods and with the evolution of his own 
spirit, and yet at times so identifying himself with Nature ( 
as to speak in her great impersonal way, Browning is_sse.n- 
t,ia.11y dramatic, as he alwaya-CQn& himself to be ; for 
he had a deep repugnance to self-revelation, deep as his 
antagonism to Byron "of the bleeding heart." 

Which of you did I enable 

Once to slip inside my breast, 
There to catalogue and label 

What I like least, what love best, 
Hope and fear, believe and doubt of, 

Seek and shun, respect deride 1 
Who has right to make a rout of 

Rarities he found inside ? 

At the Mermaid. 

Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself ? 

Do I live in a house you would like to see 1 
Is it scant of gear, has it store of pelf ? 

" Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key ? " 

Friends, the goodman of the house at least 
Kept house to himself till an earthquake came. 


But, when he is contrasted with Shakespeare, the differ- 
ence in spirit and execution is so great that he almost ceases 
to appear dramatic. Of no one of Shakespeare's person- 
ages can we say, " There is the author himself ; " of scarcely / 
one of Browning's can we say, "There the author is not/ 
found." Browning has brought upon the stage in his dra- 
matic pieces a most multitudinous and motley throng; 
there is no stratum of society or civilisation, and hardly a 
corner of the world of man, which has not its representa- 
tive in his pages. Nevertheless, amidst all the diversities 
of type and race and character, there are certain constant 
qualities which are due to the poet himself. Browning 


goes with his readers through the sights and wonders of 
the world of man. We^ never escape the sense oj: the 
presence of his powerful peisonality, or of the ardour and 
earnestness of the convictions on which he has based his 
life. Browning, I have ventured to say elsewhere, has at 
bottom only one way of looking at the world, and one way 
of treating his objects ; one point of view and one artistic 

This naturally follows from the fact that Browning 
found one theme whose interest was supreme, and that the 
subject which was all in all to him was not purely artistic, 
but also ethical. I cannot attempt here to discuss the 
relations of these two spheres ; but it should never be for- 
gotten that .though art at its best is always moral, and the 
beautiful is both true and good, still morality is not art. 
Browning showed that he knew himself and his true work 
when he said that " he laid the stress on the incidents in the 
development of a soul," and he revealed his own artistic 
limitations when he added, "little else is worth study." 
The depth of his interest in the evolution of character, in 
the struggle by which the " soul awakes and grows " and 
holds by God, enabled him, as has been frequently ob- 
served, to complement the nature-poets. And the light 
with which he has flooded the moral world is beyond doubt 
the new quality he has added to our poetic possessions, his 
great and unique gift to mankind crowning him in turn 
with a glory all his own. 

f It was his interest in the evolution of character which 
[^ drove him to the drama. There can be no doubt that the 
arts possess no instrument comparable in power of re- 
vealing character to the drama and its prose counterpart, 
namely, the novel. For the primary truth about character 
a truth which professed writers on morals have never 
forgotten except with calamitous results is that it is a 
living process, an endlessly vn.ryiqg_movement, a continuous 
new creation. The unity of character is never broken, but 


it is never fixed. Nothing can be said to be, but all is 
becoming. There is nowhere a static element ; amidst all 
the doing there is nothing done. Even the freedom from 
which it derives its being is something never acquired, but 
is always being achieved. The day when we shall be free 
is ever in the future, though every action is due to the 
presence of freedom as an active conviction and living 
principle. Character thus presents itself at each moment * 
as made up of latent potencies capable of being awakened 
by the clash with outward circumstances, and of taking 
ever a new form in the conflicts by which it maintains 
itself. It is a veritable treasury of surprises. They are 
surprises even to the dramatist himself. He cannot tell 
beforehand, as Scott admits, how his personages will -be- 
have. Their fate often seems to hang by a thread, and the 
pettiest incident may serve to set free hidden forces in a 
character which otherwise might have lain dormant. The 
greater the dramatist, the better he knows this, giving 
outward circumstances their place without making his per- 
sonages puppets. The true dramatist is thus an observed 
and recorder, and nothing more v He neither approves! 
nor disapproves, but without either prejudice or partiality 
lets the characters evolve their own destiny in the outer 
world. This is the root of the magnificent objectivity of '' 
Shakespeare. This is why we cannot find . him in any of 
his works. He has no preconceived theory, no dominant 
scheme of life, no likes or dislikes ; but his bosom is broad 
as Nature's, and he sheds his genial sunshine on all alike. 
In a word, he gives them life and a world to work in, 
and then he stands aside while they pass judgment upon 

Now, this movement, this evolution of latent tendencies 
through stress and conflict, which characterises life and 
the dramatic representation of it, is a permanent quality of 
Browning's writing. Even in such poems as ' The Ring 
and the Book,' where the poet knows the end from the 


beginning, and where the story expands at each telling 
like circles in water, this dramatic quality is present ; for 
he throws the action into the shifting present. We know 
the whole story, in a sense, after the first telling ; but its 
meanings rise up one after the other as we read the speech 
of Caponsacchi and the musings of Pompilia and of the 
Pope. We never have the feeling that we are reading the 
record of events that are past, as we have in the writings 
of an essentially epic poet like Milton. If we do not catch 
the action in its making, as we do in Shakespeare, we hear 
it reverberate in the world of thought : its echoes are not 
dead. In this respect, Browning* writes dramatically; 
whether there is movement in his out^r wm-ld of action or 
not, thereis movement inhis world of thought. 

But, in constant conflict with this dramatic element in 
Browning's poetry, there is another which mars its effect 
and limits the range of its power. I mean the supremacy 
of Browning's interest in morals. I "Cannot deny, and I 
do not wish to deny, that the conflict of right and wrong 
within a life is the supreme fact both for men and for the 
dramatic representation of them. Nevertheless, none can 
read Shakespeare or Scott and say with Browning that 
"little else is worth study." On the contrary, we know 
full well that Dogberry and Falstaff, and Imogen and 
Rosalind, and many more are interesting quite apart from 
all ethical considerations. In his tragedies, no doubt, 
Shakespeare raises the deepest ethical questions ; there is 
the clash of the powers and principalities of the moral 
world, and these always constitute the greatest and most 
majestic dramatic element, compelling pity and terror. 
Indeed, I am not sure that a non-ethical tragedy is possible, 
or that anything can rouse the deepest pity except the de- 
feat of a form of good. But to ask moral questions when 
we read Shakespeare's comedies, to regard Falstaff or 
Touchstone as either moral or immoral, is to place our- 
selves at a point of view hopelessly irrelevant. And yet 


they are worth study ! And might we not venture to learn 
from them that there are other things in the world besides 
right and wrong ? In any case, a humourist and a poet 
might have a good deal to say for himself if he insisted 
that there are some men and women who are best appreci- 
ated only if we regard them as non-moral, as neither good 
nor bad, as meant not so much to illustrate the conflict of 
right and wrong as the comedy of situation. Life, no 
doubt, is serious enough for them, but may not a poet be 
allowed to forget this ? Or, to put the question in an- 
other form, can we be quite sure that humour has no place 
amongst the divine attributes ? 

Browning, if we may judge from his dramas, took the 
negative answer for granted. Nothing has interest for \ 
him except right and wrong. This, no doubt, is his 
strength and the crown of his glory amongst the poets ; it 
is also his weakness. He cannot forget the mighty issues 
which hang on paltry facts and passing thoughts ; and life 
is to him " all astrain." He has a surpassingly quick eye 
for moral effects, for the consequences that reverberate 
endlessly in the world of spirit, darkening destiny into 
tragedy and making even the movement; of the Good awful 
in its magnitude ; but he is generally blind to the lighter 
play of things, to the fanciful idea that brings nothing 
but laughter in its train, to the emotion that only ripples 
the surface, to the inconsequence and incoherence, the 
oddities and inversions, in which Comedy, forgetting the 
stern rule of law, always revels. Ethics is, it is true, 
the completest science of man ; but there is room for other 
sciences of man as well. For man is not always moral or 
immoral, at least not consciously so. He is the offspring 
of Xature as well as the child of light, and much of his 
life is only indirectly related to good and evil. The con- 
stant consciousness of infinite moral issues veritably latent 
even in little things would crush him. I am not sure that 
it would make him a good man ; or whether rather it would 



not be better for him to do some good things as the bird 
sings on the tree-top, with " a fine, careless rapture." 

I do not mean that Browning's dramas are too moral or 
that he is too great a teacher of good. That, I believe, is 
not possible. What I mean is that his moral interests are 
too obtrusive, and that he is too conscious of a mission; and 
a mission destroys the drama. No sterner moral lesson is 
taught in all literature than Hamlet teaches to his mother 
in the closet scene. But the scene comes by the way. There 
is no mechanical preparation for it, and no reminiscence of it 
after it is over. The poet never purposed it. It is unpre- 
meditated, spontaneous, the product of the moment, and 
therefore irresistibly impressive. Again and again in 
Shakespeare we find some little incident or stray word sets 
free some great conception. 

Portia. Do you confess the bond ? 

Antonio. \ do. 

Portia. Then must the Jew be merciful. 

Shi/lock. On what compulsion must I ? tell me that. 

Then follows "The quality of mercy is not strained" and 
the whole immortal passage. I cannot recall at present 
any great passage in Browning which rises on the reader 
just in this way, any such great conflagration kindled by 
an accidental spark. The scenes which involve direct 
moral issues generally come of set purpose. He prepares 
for them, carries them with him throughout the play, 
and makes them the pivot on which the whole action 

In fact, this brings into view a notable and, I believe, a 
unique feature of Browning's dramas. They are never 
placed, like Shakespeare's, frankly in the outer world,lbut 
in the world of emotions and passions, and volitions and 
thoughts. His dramas are in his characters, and his char- 
acters are not in the world, but in some section cut 
out of it-J 

In consequence, it is the spiritual aspect of the actions 


which is presented to the reader ; the moral issues are 
given bare and naked, and not, as in Shakespeare, through 
the medium of the incidents of ordinary life. If the outer 
world does come in, it is only as a background on which 
the real action namely, that of thought or passion is 
cast. The stage is filled with moral agents in a state of 
.spiritual tension, not with men and women who are flesh 
and blood as well as spirit, and who are in time and space 
as well as in the world of the eternal verities. It may be 
worth our while to exemplify this cardinal feature of 
Browning's dramas. His dramas do not as a rule lack 
incidents and events ; hardly one of them is stagnant like 
'Hamlet,' where the tragedy hangs overhead, motionless 
as a black cloud. There is the hurry and the heat of 
tragic situations in the act of evolving themselves; and, 
so far, the representation is dramatic. Nevertheless, they 
are not frankly in the outer world, not genuinely objective. 
I find everywhere the poet's own mood and passion ; moods 
and passions which have their root in some moral convic- 
tion, and which envelop the agents, subtly removing them 
from the ordinary life and giving to them and their actors 
an air of unreality and untruth. We recognise at once 
that the love scenes in ' A Blot in the 'Scutcheon ' are 
written by a moralist, and by a surpassingly great one. 
We feel the tragic tension, the moral strain, in Mildred's 
first words to her lover: "Sit, Henry do not take my 
hand ! " It deepens with the next question : " What be- 
gins now ? " and then comes the overmastering conscious- 
ness that she does not deserve the happiness which is on 
the threshold, and that she will never have it. 

Ah God ! some prodigy of thine will stop 
This planned piece of deliberate wickedness 
In its birth even ! some fierce leprous spot 
Will mar the brow's dissimulating ! I 
Shall murmur no smooth speeches got by heart, 
But, frenzied, pour forth all our woeful story, 
The love, the shame and the despair. 


Mildred is everywhere and always in the same highly 
strung mood. There is nothing for her in the whole 
world except a great love and a broken moral law ; she 
never comes down into the level plain of ordinary life 
unless we except those words of unutterable pathos which 
she repeats as if they were the burden of a sad song ever 
murmuring in her broken heart : 

I was so young, I loved him so, I had 
No mother, God forgot me, and I fell. 

These simple words more than aught else bring her near to 
us, a maiden amongst maidens, only stricken with grief. 

The same deep pathos brings the Queen of ' In a Bal- 
cony ' very near to us at times. 

It is petty criticism, I think, to urge that Mildred was 
only " fourteen " when the play opens, and that such an 
insight into the issues of right and wrong is not possible to 
a child, although, of course, it is true. What a critic has 
a complete right to object to is that Mildred is presented 
to us in no other mood than this of sublime moral tension ; 
and that, so far as she is concerned, the whole action takes 
place not in the ordinary world, but on "Mount Sinai 
altogether on a smoke " amidst the terrors of a broken law. 
I would repeat my belief that practically our only task 
here on earth is " to learn thro' evil that good is best," and 
that the drama at its height turns on moral issues. But, 
on the other hand, that lesson has to be learned in a natural 
environment, where the sun shines and the flowers grow, 
and men and women eat and drink, marry and are given in 
marriage. That natural environment is not to be found in 
this play. Shakespeare would have made it break in, so 
intimate is his touch on reality. When the moods and pas- 
sions have swept his characters beyond the confines of ordi- 
nary life, the common world comes knocking at the door, 
and we have such scenes as that of the porter in ' Macbeth,' 
which deepens the tragedy and makes it real by letting in 


the contrast of the common light of day in its ordinary 
course. But Mildred lives throughout the play in another 
world from ours ; or if it is our world, if our world is spiritual 
at the core and morality its essence, its natural veil is torn 
off by the poet. Her thoughts, her true self, had already 
passed beyond the walls of the prison-house. Her 

spirit yearned to purge 
Her stains off iu the fierce renewing fire. 

And in consequence her death does not touch us like the 
death of Cordelia or Desdemona. She is not removed from 
our very midst, and we are not left desolate ; for she was 
always far away, in a world not ours. 

We find the same absence of an every-day environment, 
the same intrusion of the poet's own conception, and conse- 
quently the same touch of unreality, in the character of 
Tresham. A single trait once more wipes out all else. In 
his case, it is the consciousness of an ancient descent, 
together with the dignity and reserve and pride and statu- 
esque nobility of a scion of an old house. The 'scutcheon 
without stain is a fixed idea, an obtruding and all-obliter- 
ating element. His first words are of the " ancestral roof," 
and all but his last dwell on the same theme. 

You 're lord and lady now you 're Treshams ; name 
And fame are yours ; you hold our 'scutcheon up. 
Austin, no blot on it ! 

Gwendolen, the only entirely natural character in the play, 
the representative of common sense and practical useful- 
ness, carrying with it as usual a tinge of humour as sweeten- 
ing salt, knows well his weakness and plays with it. 

He 's proud, confess ; so proud with brooding o'er 
The light of his interminable line, 
An ancestry with men all paladins, 
And women all 

It might be pleaded in justification of Browning that 
the play turns upon the blot in the 'scutcheon, and that it 


must not be blamed for being what it professes to be. It 
might also be urged that every tragedy must turn upon 
the excessive development of some partial good, and its 
consequent collision with a good that is greater and wider. 
The drama, in other words, teaches us that 

God fulfils himself in many ways 

Lest one good custom should corrupt the world, 

and that there is nothing good except the whole. In this 
respect every tragedy must have its own special purpose ; 
and although it is foolish criticism to regard Shakespeare's 
plays as written to illustrate a moral, they are, all the same, 
dominated each by a single conception, which pervades all 
their details as life animates every particle of the organism. 
The error of the critics is to forget that the unity, just 
because it is living, is too subtle for definition. It escapes 
the distinctions of discursive thought, and it reports itself 
only to the feeling of the artistic spirit. The impression 
is one and single, but we know not why ; and we know not 
why, not because there are no reasons, but because there 
are too many ; for, just as life declares itself in all that we 
do, so every movement is the manifestation of its unity. 
The defect in Browning's dramas is therefore not that they 
have unity of purpose, but that this unity is separable 
from the rest, capable of being defined ; it obtrudes itself ; 
it is aggressive rather than pervasive. His dramas are like 
fugues in music; the main theme is caught up now by 
this voice, now by that : 

One dissertates, he is candid ; 

Two must discept, has distinguished ; 
Three helps the couple, if ever yet man did ; 

Four protests ; Five makes a dart at the thing wished : 
Back to One, goes the case bandied. 

So your fugue broadens and thickens, 

Greatens and deepens and lengthens, 
Till we exclaim " But where 's music ? " 

Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha. 


Thus, while the idea which, no doubt, lies at the root of 
every one cf Shakespeare's great tragedies, baffles the 
critics to express it, because every expression seems to 
leave something out, I think that in the case of every one 
of Browning's tragedies the main idea is accurately defin- 
able. The only one that might defeat our attempt is 
' Strafford,' where, as historians tell us, Browning paints 
the actual events with marvellous insight and accuracy. 
Who can doubt that ' Luria ' is based on the collision of 
the fresh life of the East with an effete civilisation, or of 
Nature with art grown to be artifice ? 

My own East ! 

How nearer God we were ! He glows above 
With scarce an intervention, presses close 
And palpitatingly, his soul o'er ours : 
We feel him, nor by painful reason know ! 

Luria, Act V. 

In this play, as in several others, such as ' King Victor 
and King Charles,' ' Colombe's Birthday,' and ' In a Bal- 
cony,' there is also to be detected an impulse rarely dor- 
mant in the poet's breast, the impulse to illustrate the 
victorious strength of the soul, bold in the consciousness 
of its right cause, marching straight on its object, abjuring 
prudence, which is the wisdom of man, for truth, which is 
the wisdom of God. Truth, and the courage which goes 
with it, was a passion in Browning, a great fire in his 
heart. Unlike the pure artist, he hated a lie more than 
ugliness ; and in this lies the secret of his interest in craft 
and guile, in Guido and Blougram and Prince Hohenstiel 
Schwangau, and in Fifine's gentlemanly casuist. Faithful 
always to his task, he 

Untwists heaven's white from the yellow flare 
O' the world's gross torch. 

The Pope. 

And fast by truth, within the truth as its inmost essence, 
there always comes love, the poet's other magnificent 


prejudice. In ' Colombo's Birthday ' and ' In a Balcony ' 
both of these strands are woven together; nowhere in 
literature is their union so celebrated, nowhere is love 
more plainly set forth as the eternally true. 

There is no good of life but love but love ! 

What else looks good, is some shade flung from love; 

Love gilds it, gives it worth. 

In a Balcony. 

Love is no mood or passion, not a light that plays upon 
the world, but something which transfigures it and even 
constitutes it. "I am love," says Norbert, "and cannot 
change ; love's self is at your feet ! " 

Let me fulfil my fate 

Grant me my heaven now ! Let me know you mine, 
Prove you mine, write my name upon your brow, 
Hold you and have you, and then die away, 
If God please, with completion in my soul ! 

Being truth, it is the source of every strength, the one pur- 
pose great enough to make itself felt as a mastering power 
in the world's bewildered course. 

Oh never work 

Like his was done for work's ignoble sake 
Souls need a finer aim to light and lure ! 
I felt, I saw, he loved loved somebody. 

Let her but love you, 
All else you disregard ! what else can be ? 
You know how love is incompatible 
With falsehood purifies, assimilates 
All other passions to itself. 

Colombe's Birthday. 

Being truth, it is its own sufficient reward; it is all, and 
must satisfy the soul. 

Ne'er wrong yourself so far aa quote the world 

And say, love can go unrequited here ! 

You will have blessed him to his whole life's end 

Low passions hindered, baser cares kept back, 

All goodness cherished where you dwelt and dwell. 

What would he have ? 


It is difficult not to dwell on this great strain in Brown- 
ing's poetry. Love has been much sung in the world's 
long course, though such love as this never before. 

But its very intensity mars the dramatist ; for he must 
paint the world as it seems, although its seeming may be 
false. His task is not to find the truth beneath the shows 
of sense, not to " untwist heaven's white from the yellow 
flare," not to separate the mean and low from the high and 
pure, but to represent man as the sorrowful yet sacred 
compound which he is. Browning cannot do this. I do 
not mean that his characters are mechanically simple, like 
those of George Eliot's later works ; we cannot put their 
motives together like the pieces of a clock-work, which, 
though it may have many wheels and pins, some of them 
very small, is still held together by a simple, natural force. 
Browning's personages are men and women, and they live. 
But yet they are simple for another cause ; for they are all 
ruled by some overmastering passion or some despotic 
idea, caught in the whirl of some sweeping mood. If 
we said that Browning, like Ben Jonson, writes of humours, 
we should do him injustice and still convey some truth. 
The significant difference between them is that these hu- 
mours are not, in Browning's characters, surface elements, 
external tricks of speech and action, petty idiosyncrasies ; 
the significant similarity is that Browning gives to each 
some dominant mood that_ney_er for a moment relaxes its 
hold, but, like a consuming fire, assimilates everything to 
itself. It would be untrue to say that his personages are 
embodiments of a priori conceptions, or that they are made 
in order to illustrate an idea on a preconceived scheme. 
Yet it is quite evident that their characters are not the re- 
sult of their intercourse with their fellows and of the inter- 
action between them and the world. Had not Macbeth 
met the witches on the moor with the excitement of the 
battle not yet subsided, the ambition within him might 
have left him a loyal and victorious general. It is the 


outer incident which lets loose the inner impulse, and ever 
and anon some new hint is caught from circumstances, 
which adds fuel to the fire. And what a chapter of acci- 
dents there is in ' Othello ' or ' Hamlet ' ! The plays move 
and the doom always comes nearer, but by what devious 
ways and apparently meaningless windings ! These 
dramas are like life, just because the fate which is irre- 
sistible conceals itself amidst accidents ; it carries with it 
so much apparently irrelevant and so many seemingly in- 
consequent events, any one of which might be turned to 
account, but are allowed to slip beyond the grasp. But 
Browning's plays march straight onward. The chief char- 
acters, enveloped in their own moods as in a driving storm, 
turn not from their predestined course. Outward circum- 
stances serve to reveal their qualities, but there is other- 
wise little response to them, and little development. They 
are freighted with their destiny from_the first, Mildred 
with her woe, Pym with his great love for England, 
Luria with the tropic wealth of his generous nature, Colombe 
with the simple maidenhood that will always set love above 
the pomp of state, and Valence with his stormy straight- 
forwardness and his great heart. Browning's greater char- 
acters are so charged with their passion, whether it is of 
the intellect or of the heart, that the smaller things of life 
cannot affect them. In fact, Browning cannot deal in deli- 
cate lights and shades. He plays on no lute or lyre, but 
on an organ that always blows with full power. 

The pillar nods, 

Rocks roof, and trembles door, gigantic, post and jamb, 
As harp and voice rend air the shattering dithyramb ! 

Fifine at the Fair. 


Wrapped in his theme, the poet forgets the world without. 
His theme develops in his hands, the thoughts implicit 
within it change and grow, but the character remains sub- 
stantially the same from beginning to end. The poet is, 


in fact, a slave to his own intensity and ardour. When he 
deals with the " development of a soul " he is in no holiday 
mood, and his touch is rarely light, except in the case of 
subsidiary personages. He is so intent on the inner mean- 
ing, his eye is so fixed on the greater elements in his char- 
acters, that he is blind to the small peculiarities of speech 
and gait and action, and to the side-play of casual inci- 
dents which is often so significant in Shakespeare's hands. 
The consequence is that we cannot distinguish his char- 
acters except by broad lineaments. We feel that we 
should recognise Imogen or Cordelia or Rosalind even 
though they never spoke ; and if they do speak, a word re- 
veals them. But the Queen of ' In a Balcony,' and Con- 
stance, and Mildred reason of their love in the same 
manner, although the first is old and worn, the second in 
the full summer of womanhood, and the third at its early 
spring. To recognise them, we must know their history 
and hear all they have to say. Browning's drama is not 
spectacular ; he appeals to our reason rather than to our 
imagination; the play of fancy is very rare, and of humour 
still rarer. In fact, the critic who does not fear to raise a 
storm might hold that Browning has no humour. We need 
not say that Lance and Launcelot Gobbo, Dogberry and 
Touchstone, are absolutely beyond his reach; he has no 
Bob Acres even, or Sir Antony Absolute. Browning al- 
ways needs a great theme and room to develop it. Some 
of his lyrics, no doubt, are as light as they are beautiful, 
and the ' Pied Piper ' is by no means the only example he 
gives of first-rate, joyous story-telling. Nevertheless, 
speaking generally, Browning is not like Bottom, and can 
neither play all parts nor k; aggravate his voice so as to 
roar us gently." Plagued by problems, crammed with 
knowledge, crowded with thoughts, he cannot master his 
material within narrow limits. His dramas in consequence 
move heavily as a rule, though I would fain make an ex- 
ception of parts of ' A Blot in the 'Scutcheon.' There is 


little play of wit, and no bright repartee, but the speeches 
are generally long and weighty with thought. 

In a word, the dialectical power of Browning, the su- 
premftcy of his interest in morals, his force, mass, and 
momentum, his stormy strength, point to the^monologue. as 
his true vehicle for expressing himself. Browning is 
found at his best in ' The Ring and the Book,' and in 
'Paracelsus,' or 'Fifine,' or 'The Inn Album.' The de- 
mands which the drama makes, poised as it is on the point 
of interaction between the outer and inner worlds, cannot 
be met by one whose soul ever dwells amidst the funda- 
mental elements of life, delighting in the great principles 
constitutive of man and the world. The greatest works 
of Browning are neither narrative nor dramatic nor reflec- 
tive ; because they are all three. The ordinary distinctions 
fail in his case ; he breaks through our limitations and 
definitions just because he is a great poet, adding a new 
quality to our literature. 

Ours the fault, 

Who still misteach, mislead, throw hook and line, 
Thinking to laud leviathan forsooth, 
Tame the scaled neck, play with him as a bird, 
And bind him for our maidens ! Better bear 
The King of Pride go wantoning awhile, 
Unplagned by cord in nose and thorn in jaw, 
Through deep to deep, followed by all that shine, 
Churning the blackness hoary ! 

The Pope. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Nov. 26, 1893.] 

THE collection of poems belonging to what may be called 
the " Faust-cycle," in the literature of the present century, 
contains no_ extended work whose machinery of plot and 
of incident is, when externally regarded, simpler than that 
of Browning's ' Paracelsus.' The relations of hero and 
tempter are nowhere freer from external complication than 
when the hero is explicitly the deceiver of his own soul. 
With Paracelsus this is actually the case. 

For classing ' Paracelsus ' with the Faust-cycle in this 
way there are many grounds. The real Paracelsus was a 
contemporary of the historic prototype of Faust. The two 
figures were,jis_a fact, closely linked in Goethe's mind, as 
they must have been in Browning's. Such a classification 
in no wise detracts from the sort of originality which the 
poem possesses, while it aids us in finding our way when 
we consider its problem. The absence of an external 
tempter in no wise excludes the poem from the Faust- 
cycle ; for the tempter in most such creations is but the 
hero's other self, given a magical and plastic outer reality, 
as with Manfred. As regards the positive aspects of the 
analogy, the typical hero of a poem of the Faust-cycle is a 
man of the Renaissance, to whom the church is no author- 
ity, and to whom the world is magically full either of God's 
or of Satan's presence, or of both. This hero risks his 
soul in a quest for some absolute fulfilment, of pleasure, 


power, wisdom or peace. Thus staking_everything, he 
gets, like an early voyager to the New World, either the 
doom of the outlaw, or the glories of the conquistador ; 
but meanwhile he comes near, if he does not meet, an evil 
end in the abyss. 

Thus regarded, the problem of Paracelsus readily defines 
itself. We are to study the career of a spiritual relative 
of Faust. Accordingly, we have to consider his original 
quest, and the strong Satanic delusion to which he fell, 
prey. In such a light we may hope to express the sense 
of his tragedy. 

Browning has told us several times, in the course of the 
poem, where to look for the heart of the mystery. Paracel- 
sus made it his early ideal "to know." Failing in this 
undertaking, conceived as it was in a spirit of ideal 3*011 th- 
f ul extravagance, the maturer Paracelsus learns from the 
poet Aprile, in the scene at the Greek conjurer's house, 
that the goal of life ought to be " to love " as well as " to 
know." He endeavours, in consequence, to reform his life 
according to the new insight ; but the attempt comes too 
late. The " love " that the great alchemist tries to culti- 
vate in his heart turns rather to hate. He flees from his 
office as professor at Basel, wanders, wastes years fruit- 
lessly, and dies, seeing indeed at last his true defect, and 
explaining it in the wonderful closing speech of the poem. 

The whole tragedy thus turns explicitly upon this poetic 
antithesis between "loving" and "knowing." But these 
words are among the most manifold in meaning of all the 
words of human language; from the nature of the case 
they have to be so. In this poem, then, just as in daily 
usage, they will mean whatever the whole context of the 
action shows. Browning portrays, as usual, a "mood" 
(the word is his own, used in the preface to the first edition 
of the poem). He leaves us to draw for ourselves the con- 
clusion from the situation before us. His choice in this 


regard but embodies the natural privilege of the dramatic 
poet; the critical problem that results for us is one of 
the most legitimate sort. A tragic conflict has occurred 
through the interplay of two of the most universal and 
Protean of human interests. How these interests are here 
coloured and defined, and why they thus conflict, we are, 
as readers, to determine. Such questions of interpretation 
are necessary in case of every serious dramatic issue. 

The very simplicity of seeming of the two familiar words 
" love " and " knowledge " has, however, blinded many 
readers to the actual complications of the poem. Of the 
critics some, like Mr. Arthur Symons, find the tragic error 
of Paracelsus in the fact that he is " one whose ambition 
transcends all earthly limits, and exhausts itself in the 
thirst of the impossible." This is of course true in a 
measure of any hero of the type of Faust ; but one thus 
defines, as it were, only the genus, not the species, of this 
particular flower from the fields of tragedy. Of the anti- 
thesis between " love " and " knowledge " itself, other 
critics, notably Mr. Berdoe, together with far too large 
a number of readers, appear to make little more than 
would be expressed by the comparatively shallow and 
abstract platitude that the intellect without the affections 
is a vain guide in life. I doubt not that Browning most 
potently believed this platitude. Who of us does not? 
But with such abstractions one gets but a little way, and 
creates no tragic issues. As a fact, nobody who has a 
nature on the human level, ever lives by either the intellect 
alone or the affections alone. Every rational being both 
" knows " and " loves," if by these words be meant only 
the bare abstractions called the " pure intellect " and the 
" affections." One might " love " Hebrew roots, or " know " 
the art of love-making. In either case, in actual life, one 
would combine the two .functions of loving and knowing, 
whatever one did. But the problem of life is always what 
to know and what to love. Apart from specific objects, 


the two tendencies have no true antithesis. If, then, 
Browning's contrast means anything, these two words must 
be used, as St. Paul used them, or as common sense always 
uses them, in a pregnant sense, and with an implied refer- 
ence to particular objects known or loved. 

Browning cannot mean to ascribe his hero's failure to 
the fact that he is a " pure intellectualist," in the sense in 
which that term is often applied to a man who is exclu- 
sively in love with the study of some one abstract science. 
Such a devotee of pure science Browning actually sketched 
for us later in the ' Grammarian's Funeral.' The poet, fond 
as he is of strenuousness, has no word of blame for the 
ideal of such a student, whose one-sidedness he finds not 
tragic, but glorifying. 

Let a man contend to the uttermost 
For his life's set prize, be it what it will ! 

That is Browning's creed, from first to last. I can con- 
ceive, then, no error more hopeless than to suppose that 
the pregnant words which name the ideals of "love" and 
" knowledge," here tragically and sharply opposed to each 
other, are merely names for the intellectual and the affec- 
tionate sides of human nature, or that the poem is merely 
a sentimental protest on the part of a young poet against 
the too exclusive devotion of a thoughtful hero to his life's 
chosen business. Were that the case, it would be the 
solitary instance in all Browning's works where a hero 
suffers in the poet's estimation because of a too sincere 
devotion to his chosen ideal. 

As a fact, such an estimate of our poem would here con- 
tradict the most obvious facts of the text. The man Para- 
celsus, at his coldest, never even tries to appear in this 
poem as a partisan either of a pure intellectualism of any 
sort, or of what we nowadays should call the " scientific 
spirit." He is no abstract reasoner, but a man of intui- 
tions ; no admirer of the so-called " cold intellect," but a 


passionate mystic ; no steadily progressive student, busied 
with continuous systematic researches, but a restless wan- 
derer ; no being of clear-cut ideas, but j^ dreamer. The 
attentive reader cannot miss these altogether fundamental 
considerations. Unless we bear in mind these character- 
istics the dreaminess, the ardour, the mysticism, the un- 
steadiness, and the essential unreasonableness of Browning's 
Paracelsus, the man and his fortunes will remain a sealed 
book. No interpretation that forgets these facts in denning 
what " knowledge " meant for Paracelsus, and how it was 
opposed to the "love " of the poet Aprile, will be able even 
to approach a comprehension of the text, or to see wherein 
Paracelsus was deceived. 

I may observe in passing that Browning was fond of 
using the words "love," "knowledge," and "pow r er" in a 
pregnant sense. All three are so used not only in this 
poem but also down to the latest period of the poet's work. 
The use of familiar words in a pregnant sense, to be defined 
by the context, is the poet's substitute for technical terms. ^ 
In ' Reverie,' in ' Asolando,' precisely the same antithesis 
as that upon which the tragedy of ' Paracelsus ' is based is 
treated, not in its relation to a hero's character, but in a 
general and meditative fashion, with the use of the words 
"love" and "power" as the terms. In fact the problem 
of ' Paracelsus ' involves one of Browning's most frequent 
and favourite topics of reflection. 


In the case of a tragedy of Browning's creation, one can 
do little with the ideas, unless one first understands the ^/ 
hero's personality. How ideal are the aspirations which 
Browning attributes to his hero, every reader knows. 
What many readers neglect is that other and far less ideal 
disposition which, with a characteristic respect for the 
complexities of human nature, he attributes to what one 
may call his hero's lower self. Browning has affixed to 



the poem certain prose notes, meant to help us in under- 
standing the author's attitude. Read by themselves, these 
tend to make us think of Paracelsus and his fortunes in 
anything but an ideal light. The excesses, the charla- 
tanry, the other marks of degradation, the roughness of 
speech of this rugged being, when once he is angered, his 
pettiness of motive when once he is involved in difficulties, 
to all these the notes deliberately attract attention. All 
are fully reflected in the poem itself. Browning is not the 
slavish admirer of his own hero, but the true dramatic 
poet, who takes interest in the struggle of a great but 
burdened and in some respects degraded soul for the far- 
off light. Until the very end we must not expect to find 
Paracelsus wholly or even very largely an enlightened 
being. He has to work aspiringly in the dark. 

As a creature of flesh and blood, Browning's Paracelsus 
is, first of all, rather a dreamer than a thinker. He is 
extremely intelligent, but essentially a creature of flashes 
of insight. He is of indomitable courage and of restless 
temper, impatient of restraint, and extremely fond, like 
many other professional men, of the sound of his own 
voice. He is very unconscious meanwhile of a certain 
curiously sentimental fondness for his intimate friends 
which lurks in the background of his rugged temperament, 
and which, especially in the third and fourth acts, gets 
very noteworthy expressions. Unable to bring this senti- 
mental motive either to form or to consciousness, he is 
driven to search ceaselessly for exciting experiences, to the 
end that a heart which can never be satisfied may be kept 
constantly stimulated. So long as life is new, he indeed 
is able to refrain absolutely from all meaner indulgences ; 
but he is somewhat coarse-fibred, and when higher excite- 
ments fail, he takes a certain rude delight in more ignoble 
sport, and meanwhile despises himself therefor. He is 
overwhelmingly proud, and is by nature condemned to a 
profound loneliness of experience. 


In order to comprehend what sort of " knowledge " is in 
question in the poem, let us observe something suggested 
by the relation of our hero to the real Paracelsus. Brown- 
ing says : " The liberties I have taken with my subject are 
very trifling ; and the reader may slip the foregoing scenes 
between the leaves of any memoir of Paracelsus he pleases, 
by way of commentary." Browning was twenty-two years 
old when he thus wrote. His previous reading had been 
varied and industrious. From first to last he was fond of 
what is called mystical literature. Mrs. Sutherland Orr 
mentions among the books read in the poet's boyhood an 
old treatise on astrology. For the poem itself he read 
during a few months very extensively. There is no evi- 
dence, however, that he considered it his task, as poet, 
to trouble himself much concerning the technical aspect of 
the opinions which distinguish the actual Paracelsus from 
other thinkers of a similar intellectual type. It is fairly 
plain, however, that Browning had interested himself to 
collect from such sources as he used a number of illus- 
trations of the characteristic speeches and the personal 
attitudes of his hero. The^ special doctrines of the thinker 
had less concern for him. Their spirit, and ^thedeepej 1 
nature of the man, he sought authentically to portray. 

Especially authentic as characterising the real Para- 
celsus, and especially important, also, for understanding 
the poetic antithesis of " love " and " knowledge," as here 
developed, is an intellectual trait which Browning makes 
prominent in his hero throughout the poem, the curious 
union of a very great confidence in private intuitions, in 
the inner light, as such, with a very great respect for what 
Paracelsus regards as the right sort of external experience 
of the facts of nature. Here is a man to whom "knowl- 
edge" means his own private, immediate, and intuitive 
apprehension of truth through the inner light, but to 
whom this inner light means nothing except in relation to 
the details of outer experience, as he himself has verified 


them ; a dark-lantern sort of spirit who has to shine alone 
apart from other lights, and whose spiritual insight for 
ever flashes its brilliant beams now on this, now on that 
chance fact of the passing moment. To understand the 
significance of this tendency we must give the matter still 
closer scrutiny. 


Browning well read in the real Paracelsus the just-men- 
tioned fundamental and noteworthy feature of his mental 
processes. Some men believe in the intuitions, in the 
inner light, of either the reason or the heart ; and there- 
fore they find these intuitions so satisfying that they ne- 
glect or even abhor the baser revelations of the senses. 
Such men go into their closet and shut the door, or, as 
Schiller has it, they "flee from life's stress to the holy 
inner temples." Here they can be alone with God, with the 
truth, with their love, or with all their noble sentiments. 
Such men may be abstract thinkers, serene and deep, like 
Spinoza. If they are more emotionally disposed, they 
become, in various untechnical and devout fashions, con- 
templative mystics, quietists, seers of divine and incommu- 
nicably beautiful dreams. On the other hand there are 
men who stand in sharp contrast to the former ; these be- 
lieve, as they say, only " in the hard facts of experience." 
Accordingly, they mistrust all intuitions, whether rational 
or emotional. Men of this type we call pure empiricists^ 
or positivists. 

But these two sharply contrasted types do not anywhere 
nearly exhaust the possibilities. Many men there are who 
join, in one way or another, intuition and experience. Of 
these latter there are not a few, even among the patient 
students of natural science, still more, among the students 
of the moral world, who look to see the divine law 
illustrated and incarnated in the facts of experience, vivify- 
ing either the whole, or some luminous part thereof, with 
its own grace and significance. In the classification of 


these mixed types we must appeal to a very ancient and 
familiar distinction, that between the world of our phy- 
sical and the world of our moral experiences. Upon this 
distinction the problem of our whole poem turns. 

Granted, then, that one may expect a divine order, such 
as the higher intuitions have seemed to reveal to the mys- 
tics, to be more or less obviously embodied and exemplified 
in some type of the concrete facts of our experience, there 
still remains the question, Is it Nature, or is it Spirit; is 
it the physical world, or the moral world ; is it the outer 
order of natural events, or is it the conscious life of man- 
kind in their social, their moral, their emotional relations ; 
is it die world as the student of natural wonders, or the 
world as the lover of human life, the artist, the portrayer 
of passion, comprehends it ; in fine, is it the world of the 
" powers " of nature, or the world of the heart of man, that 
is the most likely and adequate to furnish facts capable of 
illustrating and embodying the divine purpose? This 
question is one of the oldest in the history of the higher 
problems of human thought. The vision of Elijah at 
Horeb is an ancient comment on this topic. Is God in the 
wonders of nature in the storm, the thunder, the earth- 
quake ? No, answers the story, He is not in these. He is 
in the " still small voice." The antithesis is thus an ex- 
tremely familiar one ; it was a favourite topic of considera- 
tion with Browning. His own personal view agrees with 
that of the narrator of the vision of Elijah. 

Many men (for instance, the modern followers of the 
ethical idealism that resulted from Kant's teachings) have 
learned to be very sceptical about finding any revelation 
of the divine will, or of any absolute truth, in the world of 
the facts of physical nature. These facts they find, like 
Browning in ' Reverie,' too complex, too deep, too full of 
apparent evil, too dark, to show us the divine will. God 
may be behind them, but they hide his true life. Our 
insight into external nature is essentially limited. We 


vainly strive, in the present life, to peer into such mys- 
teries. Thejworld of physical experience is, as Kant de- 
clared, but the world of our limitations. It is the moral 
world, then, and not the physical world, that can show the 
divine. In ' Reverie ' Browning states the issue and its 
possible solution substantially thus : If one looks outwards, 
one sees a world which Browning calls the world of 
" power," that is, the physical universe. It is a world of 
rigid law, and in the observer it begets a state called 
knowledge, that is, in the language of this poem, an out- 
ward-looking and helplessly submissive acceptance of what 
one finds there : 

" In a beginning God 
Made heaven and earth." Forth flashed 
Knowledge : from star to clod 
Men knew things : doubt abashed 
Closed its long period. 

" Knowledge obtained, Power praise," continues the poet ; 
but he observes that what knowledge has thus revealed is 
everything and anything but a manifestly divine order. 
This world of natural knowledge shows itself full of strife, 
evil, death, decay. Can one hope, then, for a solution 
here? No, but there is another world, the moral world, 
the world of love, and of conscious and ideal activity. 
This is the world that to the hopeful lover of the good 
shows, amidst all its incompleteness, genuine traces of 
the divine will. The poet contrasts this, the moral 
world, as being, despite its mixture of tendencies, rather 
the world of " Love," with the other world, that of 
" Power." 

The world of "knowledge," whose facts come from 
without and simply mould the passive mind to accept 
and submit in the presence of destiny, is still further 
contrasted with the facts revealed in the "leap of man's 
quickened heart," in the "stings of his soul which dart 
through the barrier of flesh," and in all that striving up- 


wards, that moral idealism, which is for Browning, some- 
what as for Kant, the one basis for the assurance that 
" God 's in his heaven ; all 's right with the world." 

One is to get the final revelation in terms of decidedly 
moral categories. It is " rising and not resting ; " it is 
" seeking the soul's world " and " spurning the worm's ; " it 
is not passively " knowing," but morally acting, that is to 
confirm one's faith. What already tends in the present 
life towards such confirmation is not " knowing " the outer 
world, but living " my own life." 

Where, .among these rather manifold types of mankind, 
did Paracelsus stand ? Was he a mystical quietist, or was 
he in any fashion a mere positivist ? Did Browning con- 
ceive him as in substantial agreement with his own views ? 
We need not attribute to Browning, at twenty-two years 
of age, any very elaborate or articulate philosophy when 
we conceive him taking sides concerning this ancient and 
familiar issue with regard to the method and the region of 
the divine revelation. In ' Paracelsus,' as in ' Asolando,' 
the general view and the terminology of the poet are iden- 
tical. Paracelsus is no mystical quietist or positivist. He 
unites experience and intuition. But he does not look 
in the moral world for the divine revelation. He looks 
elsewhere. He belongs, then, to another class than does 
Browning ; and to another class than do the ethical ideal- 
ists who follow Kant. What is this class ? 

There is a type of men whom one might call the Occult 
Idealists, or in other words the Physical Mystics. Men of 
this type seem to themselves to possess overwhelmingly 
clear intuitions of the divinest depth ; but these always re- 
late to the spiritual interpretation of particular physical 
facts. The word of the Lord comes to such men, but in 
the form of a theoretical revelation as to the meaning of 
this and this in the world of outer experience. They 
therefore are never content in the "holy inner temples." 
They dislike purely speculative systems, as well as all inner 


dreaming. They are very impatient, too, oil the limitations 
of human nature. They deny such limitations. One can 
know whatever one is deep enough to interpret in the 
facts of nature. Equally, however, such men despise those 
mere non-mystical empiricists, who have and who respect 
no holy intuitions. Our empirical mystics find no facts 
" hard," as do the positivists, but all facts deep. They do 
not much believe in a God whom either speculation or 
meditation finds in the cloistered solitudes of the mind. 
They want to find him in this or in that physical fact, in 
this sign or wonder, in that natural symbol, in yonder re- 
ported strange cure of a sick man, in weird tales of second 
sight, in the still unread lore of the far East, in " psychical 
research," in the "subliminal self," in the stars, in the 
revelations of trance mediums, in the Ouija board or in 
Planchette, perhaps in a pack of cards, or in the toss of 
a coin. Nowadays we are more or less familiar with this 
type of empiricists, who still rather uncritically trust their 
intuitions; of collectors of facts, who mean thereby to 
prove the reality of the universal order and of the spiritual 
world ; they seem never quite sure of the divine omni- 
presence until they have looked behind this door, or have 
peered into that cupboard, to see whether God after all is 
really there. 


The historical Paracelsus was, on the whole, a man of 
this type, an empirical mystic who devoted himself to 
physical studies. For this class we have the rather awk- 
ward but almost unavoidable general name, Occultist. By 
Occultist we do not mean merely one who believes that 
there are divinely mysterious, i. e., truly occult, things in 
our world. The Kantian or Ethical Idealist believes in 
such mysteries, and is in no wise an occultist. But the 
latter is rather one who believes in a particular method of 
proving and interpreting the presence of the divinely oc- 
cult. This method is a sort of restless collection of quaint 


and varied facts of experience. Quaint these facts must 
be ; for what lies near at hand is never so clearly divine, 
to such eyes, as the distant, the uncommon, the foreign. 
In our own day God is to be found in the far East ; here 
at home we can obtain him only at second hand. The 
Arabs and the Hindoos are the true adepts. Sp^ Brown- 
ing^ Paracelsus sets out on long and indefinite travels. 
The occultist's facts must be varied. In the Father's 
house are many mansions, and their furniture is extremely 
manifold. Astral bodies and palmistry, trances and men- 
tal healing, communications from the dead and "phan- 
tasms of the living " such things are for some people 
to-day the sole quite unmistakable evidences of the su- 
premacy of the spiritual world. Some of these things 
were known to the real Paracelsus ; others, as varied, he 
also knew and prized. 

The real Paracelsus was a medical man, whose philosophy 
and occultism .were chiefly valuable in his own eyes as lay- 
ing a foundation for his skill as a healer. This aspect re- 
treats into the background in Browning's poem, for obvious 
reasons, such as the difficulty of employing forgotten med- 
ical lore in verse. But the Paracelsus of the poem is 
still both a dreamer of universal dreams and an ardent 

What fairer seal 

Shall I require to my authentic mission 
Than this fierce energy ? this instinct striving 
Because its nature is to strive ? 

So he tells us in the first act, where the young aspirant for 
a divine mission bids farewell to his two friends ere he sets 
out on a long wandering in search of his knowledge. But 
what this " striving " proves is, he says, the presence of 

God helping, God directing everywhere, 
So that the earth shall yield her secrets up, 
And every object there be charged to strike, 
Teach, gratify her master God appoints. 


In other words Paracelsus is going, in the service of God 
and man, to scour the earth in the search of numerous lost 
facts of some vast significance for human welfare. 

To this conception of the young dreamer's life mission 
his friend Festus replies, with a certain wonder, that one 
so sure of God as Paracelsus at the outset of his great 
quest appears to be, might as well seek for all this healing 
truth near by, in 

Some one of Learning's many palaces. 

Why should Paracelsus thus look for the truth only " in 
strange and untried paths " ? 

What books are in the desert ? Writes the sea 
The secret of her yearning in vast caves 
Where yours will fall the first of human feet ? 

Festus doubts the very sincerity of his friend's quest 
for knowledge, since it seems to involve scorn for all 
the accessible lore of the past ages of learning, and a 
mere resort to the accidental experiences of the aimless 

The reply of Paracelsus goes very deep into his own 
character, and reveals to us a certain scorn of the medioc- 
rity of ordinary men, a scorn often characteristic of 
dreamers of every type. The same reply reveals also a 

\ sense of the unique intensity of his own inner life, 
a sense upon which is founded his love for lonely ways. 
It expresses furthermore his assurance of his immediate 
intuitions of the divine ; and finally, it embodies a curious 
and very characteristic belief that this immediate inter- 
course with God is not of itself enough, and that it points 

v out to him a very hard, a very long, but a very wonderful 
path along which he must henceforth go, a path that is 
to lead to the discovery of an endless multitude of special 
truths, and such a multitude as it almost crazes him to 
contemplate. This path is the path of the collector of 
special facts of experience. The passage of the poem here 


in question contains some of the most frequently quoted 
and least understood lines of the whole work. Paracelsus 
tells first about the moment of his discovery of his mis- 
sion, when he learned the wide contrast between his own 
powers and calling and those of ordinary men. He then 
narrates his inner experience of a conversation with the 
divine voice that spoke in his soul at that great moment, 
and he closes : 

I go to prove my soul ! 
I see my way as birds their trackless way. 
I shall arrive ! what time, what circuit first 
I ask not : but unless God send his hail 
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet, or stifling snow, 
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive. 

This spirited announcement of the youthful undertaking 
of Paracelsus contains thoughts that many readers too 
lightly pass over. One is too easily deceived by this 
young man's ardent words. One forgets that Browning 
is here but the dramatic poet, who does not mean us to 
take these tenders for true pay. As a fact Paracelsus is 
by no means as inspired as he fancies. Let us analyze the 
situation a little. Paracelsus has already gained, as he 
thinks, a very deep insight into the world. God is, and 
Paracelsus communes with him, directly, and in his own 
heart. Nevertheless, he must go somewhere, for years far 
away, to find what ? A new religion ? No, Paracelsus 
is no religious reformer. A new revelation of God's 
" intercourse " with men ? This is what lie himself says. 
In fact, however, this "intercourse," from his point of 
view, concerns the cause and cure of human diseases. 
This is indeed a grave matter, and one for a long quest. 
But where would the medical student of that time natu- 
rally look for the path to be followed in this quest ? The 
reply of course would be, " some one of Learning's many 
palaces." One would study the traditional medical art, 
and would then try to improve upon it as one could. But 
Paracelsus rejects this way altogether. Why? Because 


the immediate intuition, this direct ^revelation from God, 
shows him that not upon such traditional ways lies the 
goal. But if one communes thus directly with God, why 
not learn the secrets of the medical art at first hand, by 
immediate revelation, at home in solitary meditation, with- 
out wandering? This is the well-known way of some 
modern " mental healers." God speaks in the heart. 
Why try the desert and the sea-caves ? Why wander 
through nature, looking for new remedies ? The repl}- is 

^ that Paracelsus is a born empiricist, and cannot rest in his 
intuitions. They are vast, these intuitions, and immediate, 
but they are not enough. There is the whole big outer 
world, this storehouse of specimens of divine truth. One 
must see, feel, touch, try. In that way only can one learn 
God's will, and the art of healing. 

Still one asks, with Festus, Did not the ancients, whom 
Paracelsus rejects, collect experiences in their own way ? 
Could not one study facts wherever there are " learning's 
palaces " and sick men ? Why wander off into the vague ? 
If the world of experience concerns you, then, precisely as 
if you were a mere positivist, you need the cooperation of 
your fellows in your research. Why not then, like the 
modern ethical idealist of the Kantian type, accept the 
inner light as giving you ideals, but obtain also the outer 
world facts by the aid of public and common labours, re- 
searches, traditions ? Why despise one's fellows in order 
to learn God's will ? 

Nay, our occultist must reply, just there is the rub. 
One wants the facts, but only as interpreted by the inner 
light ; and the inner light, for an occultist, is not something 
rationally universal and human, like the insights upon 
which a Kantian idealist depends, but is the possession 

\ only of the favoured few. One must therefore find out 
God's will all alone by one's self. One may accept no 
help from another's eyes, no cooperation from one's meaner 
fellows. At best the traditions of some far off occult lore, 


the secrets of unknown Oriential adepts, may be trusted 
as guides. This inner light of the occultist is something 
so personal, immediate, and precious, that one cannot 
believe it common to all mankind in case they only reason. 
Nor can one regard one's intuitions as concerning only a 
spiritual order, such as the natural world, as a merely 
phenomenal expression of man's limitations, fails to em- 
body. One is too ardent an empiricist, and too impatient 
a mystic, to accept any human limitations at all. Thus 
then the occultist's view gets its definition. We have to 
take into account all the elements, the vast, immediate, 
private intuition, and the restless love of facts, in order to 
get this definition. The hard path before Paracelsus is the 
path of an endless collection of precisely the most novel 
and scattered facts of nature. Only such novel and scat- 
tered facts can be worthy of the attention of a person 
whose intuitions are private, immediate, and yet universal. 
One's intuition is that these facts somehow all belong 
together, as all the world is one. Therefore, the farther 
off, the more incoherent, the dimmer, the more " secret " 
the special facts, the better will they serve, when you find 
them, as examples of God's will ; for God made them all 
somehow into his one world, to magnify his own power, 
to display his glory, to heal his suffering children. But 
how long the " trackless way," where indeed only God is 
to guide, because the entire search has no principle save 
the single intuition that God himself is great, and that 
therefore even the remotest things in time and in space 
are in his eyes one, since He made them, and must some- 
how secretly have linked them ! 

Here lies a sick man. What has caused his sickness ? 
Perhaps something astral. The stars are linked to us b}- a 
divinely ordained sympathy. Astronomy is one of the 
" pillars of medicine." We must know the stars well, else 
we cannot judge about their effect upon diseases. What 
is best fitted to cure this patient? God of course has 


provided a remedy, and has left it lying somewhere in the 
world, that vast world which is all one place for God, 
but which, alas, is so wearily big and manifold for us. 
The only way is to look with the eye of a trained intuition 
for some hidden sign, such as quite escapes the vulgar eye, 
whereby the remedy of this particular disorder may be 
recognised when you meet with it in nature. The divine 
kindliness has provided each of nature's remedies with a 
sort of sign or label. The flowers, the leaves, the fruits 
of remedial plants indicate by their colours, forms, textures, 
the particular diseases that they are fitted to cure. This 
was the famous doctrine of "signatures," of which the 
real Paracelsus made so much. But again, only the 
experienced man, taught at once by the God within and 
by his own eyes that restlessly look hither and thither 
without, can learn to recognise these signs, labels, remedies. 
The divine apothecary (the phrase is borrowed from the 
real Paracelsus himself) has marked, as it were, all these 
his natural medicine flasks flowers, plants, minerals 
with a certain sort of occult language, and has then left 
x them scattered about the whole world. Only a wanderer 
^ i can find them. Only a philosopher, taught of God direct, 
can read the labels, these cryptograms of nature. Hence 
this possessor of intuitions must ceaselessly wander ; and 
this wanderer must ceaselessly depend only upon the 
inner light to guide him. Everything in the universe is 
connected with eveiything else. Hence " the mighty 
range of secret truths that long for birth." Mystic links 
bind man, the microcosmus, to the whole of nature, the 
macrocosmus. The physician must know these links in 
order to heal. Above all must he remember that every- 
thing in nature reveals, not so much itself, as something 
else. The world is all symbolic. God loves, in nature, 
to express himself darkly by signs, portents, shadows of 
truth. All these concern the philosophical physician, and 
they are, alas, so secret, so hard to read. God, who in 


the heart speaks so plainly well, in nature He hides 
himself in a mystic dumb show, and helplessly gesticulates 
like an untaught and enthusiastic deaf-mute. Such is 
the essential creed of any occultist. Here is a kind of 
doctrine that pretends, above all, to honour God ; yet, as a 
fact, one who pursues this " trackless way " behaves as if 
the God of nature were a sort of Laura Bridgman, whom 
the occultist first teaches to talk intelligibly. 


I have thus thought it right to insist upon certain 
characteristics of the real Paracelsus, whom Browning 
unquestionably had in mind as he wrote the passage the 
close of which has been quoted. I have dwelt long upon 
these characteristics because here lies the key to the whole 
poem. Browning has a certain deep personal fondness for 
the occultists. Their type fascinates him. He reads and 
portrays them often. Yet, on the other hand, he is never 
able, either in his youth, when he wrote this poem, or in 
later life, to share their doctrine. In ' Paracelsus ' he 
means to set forth their great defect. He often later 
returns to the problem. The same theme is treated in 
'The Strange Experience of Karshish.' Karshish and 
Paracelsus are, to borrow the speech of the occultists, 
different incarnations of the same spirit. Browning ad- 
mires the "picker-up of learning's crumbs," the mystic 
who pursues the occult all through the natural world. 
The error of the occultist lies in supposing that God is 
in this way revealed, or to be found. Browning's own 
opinion, as poet, has a close relation to ethical idealism. 

For Browning, God is truly revealed within, not without, 
our own human nature. Therefore, and here is the point 
of Browning's criticism of occultism, it is in our spiritual 
communion with one another, it is in our world of human 
loves, and even of human hates, that one gets in touch 
with God. When man really meets man, in love, in con- 


flicL in passion, then the knowledge of God gets alive in 
both men. The true antithesis is not between the pure 
intellect and the affections ; for your occultist is no partisan 
of the pure intellect. He, too, is in love, in mystical love, 
but with outer nature. Nor is the antithesis that between 
the scientific spirit and the spirit of active benevolence. 
Paracelsus, as one devoted to the art of healing, is from 
the first abstractly but transcendently benevolent. His is 
simply not the scientific spirit. The antithesis between 
" knowledge," as the occultist conceives it, and " love," 
as the poet views it, is the contrast between looking in 
the world of outer nature for a symbolic revelation of God, 
and looking in the moral world, the world of ideals, of 
volition, of freedom, of hope and of human passion, for the 
direct incarnation of the loving and the living God. The 
researches of the occultist are fascinating, capricious, 
and resultless. It is the student of men who talks with 
God face to face, as a familiar friend. The occultist, peer- 
ing about in the dark, sees, like Moses in the cleft of the 
rock, only God's back. The truly occult world is that 
where the lovers and the warriors meet and part. There 
alone God is revealed. Search as you will in the far East, 
in the deserts, in the sea-caves, you will never find any 
natural object more verily occult than are his love's eyes 
to the lover. Browning's mysticism thus has always an 
essentially human object before it. He therefore some- 
times depicts, with especial fondness, the awakened 
occultist, who has just learned where lies the true secret of 
our relations with God. So it happened with Karshish, 

Why write of trivial matters, things of price 
Calling at every moment for remark ? 
I noticed on the margin of a pool 
Blue-flowering borage, the Aleppo sort, 
Aboundeth, very nitrous. It is strange ! 

Here speaks the true occultist. But now there awakens 
in him, unrestrainable, the new insight, which the meeting 
with the risen Lazarus has suggested : 


The very God ! think, Abib; dost thou think? 

So, the All-Great were the All-Loving too 

So, through the thunder comes a human voice 

Saying, " O heart I made, a heai-t beats here ! 

"Face, my hands fashioned, see it in myself! 

" Thou hast no power, nor mayst conceive of mine, 

" But love I gave thee, with myself to love, 

" And thou must love me who have died for thee ! " 

The madman saith He said so : it is strange. 

It is the Christian mystery of tl-ip. Jpp.fl.rnat.ion that is 
here in question. But, as we know, Browning was no 
literally orthodox believer, and the essential truth of 
Christianity was, for him, identical with his own poetical 
faith that the divine plan is incarnate in humanity, in 
human loves, and in all deep social relationships, rather 
than in outer nature. A similar train of thought guides 
the half-conscious inspiration of the young David in the 
poem ' Saul,' as the singer of Israel feels after the prophecy 
of the Incarnation, and reaches it at last through a sort of 
poetic induction by the " Method of Residues." First, 
with all the fascination of the occultist, though with all 
the frank innocence of the untutored shepherd, David 
ransacks the whole natural world for God. As the youth 
is an optimist, he meets here indeed with no obstacles to 
his fancy ; he is troubled by none of the natural mysteries 
that would baffle the more technical occultist; but still 
the story, even when most rapturously, sung, when fullest 
of the comprehension of nature's symbolism, lacks the 
really divine note. God is somehow not quite revealed in 
all this. And hereupon David struggles, toils, pauses, 
hesitates, and then, with one magnificent bound of the 
spirit, springs wholly beyond the world of the occultist to 
grasp at once the most transcendent of mysteries and the 
most human of commonplaces : 

'T is the weakness in strength that I cry for ! my flesh that I seek 
In the Godhead ! I seek and I find it. Saul, it shall be 
A Face like my face that receives thee ; a Man like to me 
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever : a Hand like this hand 
Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee ! See the Christ stand ! 



It is by the light of this kind of poetic intuition of the 
true place of the divine in our world that Browning, in 
'Paracelsus,' lets experience criticise the occultist. 


As the hero, therefore, of such a critical poem, Browning 
chooses a mystic of the Renaissance. This mystic's creed 
is, on the whole, that of the real Paracelsus, a neo- 
Platonic philosophy of nature. The first of its main 
features, as expounded in the dying speech of Paracelsus, 
X/ is Monism. God is not merely above all, He is through all 
nature ; He is included in everything. Then there is the 
v/ symbolism so characteristic of the whole doctrine. Every 
natural process has a mystic meaning. Everything is 
alive, and has relations to all other things. Further, 
man, as microcosm, is a copy in miniature of the whole 
universe. Hence, in order to understand man, as a physi- 
cian must do in healing diseases, one must look about in 
all directions, without. Thus arises the need of an endless 
collection of special experiences, and hence also the con- 
stant need of deep intuitions in order to comprehend the 
maze of facts. Every speck expands into a star. Such a 
search means in the end madness and despair. As a fact, 
for Paracelsus, the stellar world is needed to explain all 
sorts of phenomena in the lower regions. This view, and 
the doctrine of " signatures," inspired all his work, and 
poisoned the very life-blood of it. 

Browning, too, had his own sort of mysticism. He also 
was a monist. But the poet makes his hero confess that 
he " gazed on power " till he " grew blind." Not that way 
lies the truth. He who gazes not on power, but on the 
" weakness in strength " of the human spirit, he alone 
finds the way to God. 

In the course of the poem, Browning brings this occultist 
face to face with a spiritual opponent, who tries to show 
him the truth, and in part succeeds. This opponent is a 


typical, a universally sensitive, a thoroughly humane artist. 
The " lover " and the " knower " of the poet are thus 
explicitly the Artist and the Occultist. The doctrine that 
AjDrile teaches is, first, that God is love, and, secondly, that 
the meaning of this doctrine is simply that God is the 
" perfect poet, who in his person acts his own creations." 
God, then, is related to his world as the true lover is to 
the desires of his own faithful heart, or as the artist is to 
his own inspired works. This is, indeed, mystic-ism, and it 
is neither for the young Browning nor for his characters 
any highly articulate theory of the world, any technical 
philosophy. But it is certainly an intelligible and intui- 
tively asserted doctrine as to how to find the divine in 
experience. What it asserts is this : If you want to know 
God, live rather than peer about you ; be observant of the 
moral rather than of the physical world ; create as the 
artist creates rather than collect facts as the occultist 
collects them ; watch men rather than things ; consider the 
sjecrets of the heart rather than the hopelessly mysterious 
symbolism of nature ; be fond of the most commonplace, so 
long as it is the commonplace in human life, rather than of 
the most startling miracles of the physical world ; discover 
new lands in man's heart, and let the deserts and the sea- 
caves alone ; call nothing work that is not done in company 
with your fellow-men, and nothing true insight that does // 
not mean work thus shoulder to shoulder with your com- 
rades. All this, in substance, Aprile teaches ; and this, 
and nothing else, is what he and Browning here mean by. 
" Love." The parallelism with the later poems, ' Karshish ' 
and ' Saul,' is emphasised in a later edition of the ' Para- 
celsus ' by the lines added at the end of Aprile's dying 
speech : 

Man's weakness is his glory for the strength 
Which raises him to heaven and near God's self 
Came spite of it : God's strength his glory is, 
For thence came with our weakness sympathy, 
Which brought God down to earth, a man like us ! 


ItUs not the power of God as revealed in nature, but the 
love that in Him, as a being who is alive like us, links his 
perfect life to our striving, and lives in active and passion- 
ate sympathy ; it is this alone which makes God compre- 
hensible to us. For only in this attribute is He revealed 
to us. His other attributes are, in our present state of 
existence, hopelessly dark to us. 

If this is true, then indeed the quest and the method of 
Paracelsus have been, in Browning's eyes, vain enough. 
Let us be frank about it. The heroic speech of Paracelsus 
consists of tenders and not of true pay. It is vainglorious 
boasting ; and must be regarded as such. Or, to speak 
less bluntly, it is a pathetic fallacy. Paracelsus does not 
see his way as birds their trackless way. On the contrary, 
his instinct is false, and his way, before one reaches the 
very moment of his final dying enlightenment and con- 
fession, is a blind flight no-whither through the blue. God 
has no need to waste any hail or fire-balls on the case. 
Paracelsus is left to himself, and he does not arrive, 
except, indeed, at that very last moment, at the insight 
that another man ought to be formed to take his place. 
All this, from Browning's hopeful point of view, means no 
absolute failure. Our alchemist, amid all his delusions, 
remains a worthy tragic hero, devoted, courageous, indomit- 
able, enduring, a soldier at heart. Even the wrath of man 
praises God, much more his misguided devotion. It is 
this devotion that to the end we honour even amid all our 
hero's excesses. But Paracelsus, as he is, is a sincere 
deceiver of his own soul, and, as far as in him lies, he is a 
blind guide of his fellows. Here, in the contrast between 
the truth that lies, after all, so near to his ardent spirit, 
and the error that is, despite this fact, so hopeless, is the 
tragedy. Were the truth not so near, the error, indeed, 
would not be so hopeless. Were the man not so admirably 
strenuous, he might be converted before his death-bed. 
He is no weakling, but a worthy companion of Faust. 
Yet just herein lies his earthly ruin. 



Let us now apply the central idea of the poem to its 
action in a brief review. Paracelsus the occultist aspires, 
bids farewell to his friends, and then sets out on his great 
quest. Years later we find him, older, but hardly wiser, 
at the house of the Greek conjurer in Constantinople, 
where he seeks magic enlightenment as to his future. 
The reply to his request comes in the shape of the sudden 
meeting with that mysterious figure, the dying poet Aprile, 
who has come to this place upon a similar errand after a 
life of failure. The two men meet, and, in the wondrous 
scene which follows, Paracelsus learns and, as far as his 
poor occult wit comprehends it, accepts the ideal of the 
poet, who "would love infinitely and be loved." The 
characters here brought into tragic conflict, the " lover " 
and the " knower," are the Artist and the Occultist. Both 
are enthusiasts, both have sought God, both have longed 
to find out how to benefit mankind. There is no clash of 
reason with sentiment. On the contrary, neither of these 
men is in the least capable of ever becoming a reasoner ; 
both are dreamers ; both have failed in what they set out 
to do. There is no contrast of " love," as Christian char- 
ity or practical humanitarianism, with " knowledge " as 
something more purely contemplative. Aprile is no re- 
former. He longed to do good, but as an artist ; he longed 
to create, but as a maker of the beautiful. His ideal 
attitude is, in its way, quite as contemplative as is that of 
Paracelsus. This " knower " is a physician. This artist, 
with all his creative ideals, longs to " love " by apprehend- 
ing the works of God as shown forth in the passions of 

The real contrast lies in the places where the two men 
have sought for God, and in the degrees of strenuousness 
with which they have pursued the quest. The artist has 
sought God in the world of human passion, Paracelsus in 


the magical and secret places of outer nature. The artist 
has no cause to repent his choice of God's abode ; God is, to 
his eyes, even too dazzlingly and obviously there in human 
hearts, lives, forms, and deeds. The occultist has been 
baffled despite his labours. In strenuousness, Paracelsus 
has had by far the advantage. In this he is indeed the 
king. But had Paracelsus combined Aprile's ideals and 
powers with his own strenuousness, what a kingdom might 
by this time have become his ! Such is the obvious signifi- 
cance of this wonderful scene. 

Now let us attempt an explanation of the vicissitudes and 
of the degradation of our hero's later career. The dying 
legacy of Aprile to Paracelsus is the counsel not to wait 
for perfection, but to do what the time permits while life 
lasts. Accepting this counsel, but very dimly apprehend- 
ing the meaning of the artist's ideal of " love," and falsely 
supposing himself to have " attained," where he had only 
vaguely and distantly conceived, the occultist now resolves 
to show his love for mankind in more immediate practical 
relations with them. The artist has counselled just such 
closer relations, and this is all that Paracelsus has been able 
as yet to comprehend. The result is the abortive life in 
the professorship in Basel. To Paracelsus it seems that the 
actual spirit of the dead Aprile is after all unable or un- 
willing to do anything for him. One preaches occultism 
to his students, supposing himself to be acting in the sense 
of the artist who had counselled him to get nearer to men's 
hearts. But the words of these lectures sound hollow even 
to one's own ears, and so one is driven to " bombast." The 
few "crumbs" of learning, picked up through all those 
years of wandering, appear now as nothing to the mysteries 
still unlearned. One had not known, in fact, how small 
was one's store of collections until after he had burned the 
books of Galen and the rest, and then had actually begun 
to teach. One must now resort to boasting, charlatanry, 
melancholy, self-reproach, and foreboding. The man is too 


ardent of purpose to admit in public his own defect, but 
too really noble of soul to tolerate in the least his own 
charlatanry. God is now indeed far off. The artist said 
that one found him best and most among living men. But 
in this lecture-room the poor occultist, peer as he will, 
can discover with certainty only a mass of fools. The 
most occult, the_darkest, the most fearsome of all the arts 
turns out to be the art of pedagogy, the one truly crea- 
tive art whereby Paracelsus could have hoped to enter 
Aprile's world. 

The inevitable downfall comes, and Paracelsus is driven 
from Basel. His indomitable temper wins our admiration 
even after we have learned the utter uselessness of all his 
magic arts. He now gives us a new version of Aprile's 
doctrine as he conceives it. In the song, " Over the sea 
our galleys went," he depicts the hopelessness of trying to 
come into close relations with men by the devices that are 
within his own reach. Unlike the real Paracelsus, he can 
be a poet, but not, like Aprile, an artist comprehending 
and depicting other men. In his chaos of excitement, in 
his lamentation over his failure, yes, in his cups, one 
must add, he can sing in verse his own tragedy, not the 
meaning of any life but his own. At length he seems to 
see the truth. What Aprile really meant must have been 
that a man must live, a short life and a full one, in 
loneliness, in chaos, but at any rate in a whirlwind of 
passion. Thus alone can one learn to know. The occultist 
shall be joined now with the man of passion. Thus, once 
again, Paracelsus aspires. 

An occultist must finish his days magically. From 
weary dreams and furious delirium the dying seer miracu- 
lously arises, full of seeming vigour and of cool insight, to 
tell to his friend what knowledge he has attained at this 
supreme moment. Now at last we do indeed learn the 
truth. Paracelsus has not "arrived" at what he sought, 
an earthly mission ; but he now sees why he has failed. 


The old mystical monism was right ; but as the seer depicts 
it before us, a new spirit has come into it. The story of 
the world is right as of old ; but the artist alone had put 
the true interpretation upon it. Could the Paracelsus of 
former days but have understood in his time what love 
meant, could he but have known how all the waves and 
eddies of human passion, even when they seem farthest 
from the divine, reveal God as no object in outer nature, 
however wonderful, can ever do, the occultist would 
not have aspired in vain! He would have been trans- 
formed, as the man of the future shall be, into the artist. 
This is the final message of Paracelsus, and the meaning 
of the whole tale. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Jan. 23, 1894.] 

BEOWNIN G'S ' Luria ' appeared in 1 846 as the eighth and 
last part of ' Bells and Pomegranates,' a series which 
began in 1841 with ' Pippa Passes.' Passes what ? asked 
the dull critic ; and Alfred Domett made answer, " The 
comprehension of the critic," though why it should have 
done so, passes ours. And certainly it was not 'Luria' 
that Browning sent to Mr. Justice Coleridge, and which 
for the most part so baffled his intelligence that Browning 
said, "Ah, well ! If a reader of your calibre understands 
ten per cent of what I write, I think he ought to be con- 
tent." Not to understand nine tenths of ' Luria ' and the 
best part of another, one must be dull indeed. And I am 
glad to treat of one of those simpler works which has in it 
no encouragement for those who like Browning because 
they do not like poetry. 

Jn the whole range of the 'Bells and Pomegranates,' 
obscurity was the exception, clearness was the rule. But 
it was too late. 'Sordello,' "that colossal derelict upon 
the ocean of poetry," as it has been aptly called, had been 
set adrift in 1840 ; and like a phantom ship, it kept the 
open sea and scared away the ventures of appreciation that 
might otherwise have given to the poet's other craft a timid 
and then bolder hail. How else can we explain the fact that 
a succession of poems, related to the genius of Browning 
very much as Tennyson's volumes of 1842 are related to 
the genius of Tennyson, including such dramas as ' Pippa ' 


arid ' Luria,' ' A Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' and ' Colombe's 
Birthday,' not to speak of others, such wonderful things 
as ' In a Gondola,' ' England in Italy,' 4 Italy in England,' 
' The Lost Leader,' ' How they brought the Good News,' 
and ' The Pied Piper,' how otherwise than by the bad 
name of ' Sordello ' can we explain the fate of Browning's 
reputation for a period of twenty years, a fate so cruel 
that, about 1860, there was a period of six months for 
which liis publishers could not report a single copy of his 
poems sold. " There were always a few people," he wrote 
in 1865, "who had a certain opinion of my poems; but 
nobody cared to speak what he thought, or the things 
printed twenty-five years ago would not have waited so long 
for a good word ; but at last a new set of men arrive. . . . 
All my new cultivators are young men ; more than that 
I observe that some of my old friends don't like at all the 
irruption of outsiders who rescue me from their sober and 
private approval and take those words out of their mouth 
' which they always meant to say ' and never did." 

' Luria,' in its first appearance, elicited from Landor his 
well-known commendation, praise which might well con- 
sole the poet for much popular indifference. But there is an 
accent of discouragement and despondency in Browning's 
dedication, "this last attempt for the present at dramatic 
poetry." Evidently he had been "frustrate of his hope " to 
write not only great dramatic poetry, but good acting plays. 
Something of accident as well as something of inherent 
defect had operated to this end with ' Strafford ' and ' The 
Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' however it may have been with 
' Colombe's Birthday.' Only these three of his plays have, 
I believe, been put upon the stage. Mr. Lawrence Barrett 
once poured into my private ear his enthusiasm for ' The 
Blot in the 'Scutcheon ' as a good acting play, and I think 
he put it on the boards with some success. But Mr. 
Lawrence Barrett always " wanted finer bread than can be 
made with wheat." He liked to do the daring thing, to 

' LURIA.' 251 

assume an intelligence and ideality in the community of 
play-goers equal to his own. The mdst of us would won- 
der less at the failure of any play of Browning's than at 
its success. 

' Luria ' was never offered to the managers. The char- 
acters and situations are sufficiently dramatic. They are 
intensely so ; but the monologues are many, and the 
thought, though clear, is so compact and crowded that 
only " the harvest of a quiet eye " is equal to its complete 
ingathering. A second, third, or dozenth reading will not 
exhaust its liberal reserves of beauty and its wealth of 
moral inspiration. 

One of the many readings ought to be comparative, taking 
the first edition and the last together. Such a reading 
would be instructive in regard to Browning's real or imagi- 
nary indifference to formal excellence. We have his own 
satirical self-accusation : " This bard 's a Browning ; he 
neglects the form." It does not look so here. The changes 
that he made in ' Luria ' are, as I count them, one hundred 
and sixty-two ! A few of these may be the two or three 
parts of the change a single line or phrase has undergone. 
It is evident that he has returned upon his work with 
a remorseless hand ; and the changes will be found to be 
improvements almost every time. They are few in the 
first and second acts ; many in the other three. They 
admit us very intimately to the workings of the poet's mind 
and art. They are not all for better sense ; a good many 
are for better sound. 

The inquiry what relation Browning's story has to any- 
thing actual in the course of history is not a very interesting 
one, but it may give us momentary pause. The results 
attainable do but confirm our general impression that 
Browning had a true Shakespearian indifference to the 
mere facts of history, but less dependence than Shakespeare 
on some legend, history, or play as the initiative impulse 
of his work. That Florence made up a final and successful 


war against Pisa in 1406 is pretty nearly the sum total of 
the facts contained in ' Luria,' at least so far as I have yet 
discovered in Trollope's History, Von Reumont's ' Medici,' 
and other books relating to the time. The successful leader 
of the Florentines in this war was no mercenary soldier, 
but Gino Capponi, one of the greatest of a noble family, 
whose son Keri was the historian of the war, as was the 
father of the Ciompi popular rising of 1378. If I seem 
unduly sensitive on this point, it may be because I lodged 
in Florence in the Capponi Palace on the Arno, just below 
the Ponte San Trinita, where from my window I could see 
the black scum from the charcoal-burners' huts up in the 
mountains (mentioned in Browning's ' By The Fireside ') 
come swirling down the stream, where Michel Angelo had 
been a frequent visitor and had designed a fireplace for 
some lady of the house ; let us, till we know better, think 
it was for her wjiom they poisoned at a ball in the great 
Strozzi Palace just across the bridge, and brought back to 
die, I will be bound, in our great room where you could 
swing a cat of the royal Bengal tiger family, twelve feet 
from tip to tip. 

As Luria cannot be identified, so cannot Braccio or 
Puccio or Domizia. . But there are circumstances in the 
history, here and there, from which the poet may have got 
a hint. Thus, in 1397, an attempt to restrict the power of 
the Albizzi, the rivals of the novi Medici, ended in the exile 
or death of the ringleaders, among whom were some of the 
Medici. Hence, possibly, the suggestion of Domizia. If 
we cannot identify Luria, we can find facts in abundance 
corresponding to his relation to the Seigniory and city. Sir 
John Hawkwood, one of Fuller's " worthies," died in 1394, 
and he was the most famous mercenary Florence ever had 
in her employ ; but he was an Englishman, and was always 
treated well, getting at one time one hundred and thirty 
thousand gold florins for not fighting on the other side. 
When he died, he had a splendid funeral, and was buried in 

LURTA.' 253 

Santa Maria del Fiore, where you can see his equestrian 
portrait in grisaille by Paolo Ucelli, oh the interior of the 
facade. In 1342, Walter, de Brjenne, another mercenary 
soldier, had put himself at the head of the lower classes and 
made himself master of the city, and so perhaps had lent 
some argument to Braccio's creed ; but to his attitude of 
suspicion and distrust we have a remarkable correspondence 
in a passage quoted by Mr. Cooke, in his invaluable k Guide- 
Book,' from Sapio Amminato's History. It tells how three 
commissaries were sent ,wih the army against Pisa, and 
explains, " For although we have every confidence in the 
honour and fidelity of our general, you see it is always well 
to be on the safe side. And in the matter of receiving pos- 
session of a city .-we know the ways of these nobles with 
the old feudal names ! An Orsini might be as bad in Pisa 
as a Visconti, so we might as well send some of our own 
people to be on the spot." Here is a clue, a palpable clue, 
to Browning's situation. Moreover, Bartoldo Orsini, the 
original leader of the expedition, was, if not a Moorish 
mercenary, a Ventusian captain in the pay of Florence. 
Apparently his character justified the caution of the Sei- 
gniory in sending commissaries along with him, for his com- 
mand was taken from him and given to another, one Obizzo 
da Monte Corelli, and, finally, to Gino Capponi, who brought 
the enterprise to a successful termination. " When a god 
would ride," says Emerson, " anything serves him for a 
chariot ; " and when Browning came upon this passage in 
Amminato, he had one with two horses, the Ventusian 
captain and the commissary spies. Given so much, any- 
body that had a mind to could write Browning's ' Luria.' 
Nothing was wanting but the mind. 

If there is little of the mere fact of history reproduced 
in ' Luria,' of its spiritual essence there is no lack. As in 
4 Othello ' we breathe the air of Venice, thick -spiced with 
Eastern gums, the air that wafted Columbus over seas, 
the air of brave adventure that blew everywhere in the 


sixteenth century, so insatiably curious, so deep in love 

with wonder and surprise, so in ' Luria ' we breathe the 
air of Florence, as it caressed things new and old upon her 
streets, the towers, and palaces, and churches, Avhich were 
already her delight five centuries ago, and still hold them- 
selves proudly up for our felicity. The Florence of that 
time had still much history to make, and much to do in 
architecture, painting, sculpture, to fill up the measure of 
our present thought of her. Not without effort can we 
think of her without Raphael and Michel Angel o and Fra 
Angelico ; without Savonarola ; but many other Florentine 
names now famous were in 1406 the names of the unborn : 
Gozzoli, Botticelli, Ghirlandajo, Mantegna, Francia, Barto- 
lommeo. r/Iasaccio was a baby ; Fra Angelico was not yet 
Friar John, and would not be the angelical for a century 
to come. But Gentile da Fabriano was some forty years 
of age ; and of all the pictures that we know in Florence, 
his ' Adoration of the Magi ' is the one that would have 
delighted most the soul of Luria could he have lived to 
see its splendid pageantry. It was painted in 1423, so 
that my " could he have lived " has, you will see, a double 

And yet how much that makes our thought of Florence 
rich and glad and wonderful was then already history and 
architecture and frescoed wall, and beauty breathing from 
the painter's canvas and the sculptor's stone ! Dante had 
been dead three quarters of a century and more ; and on 
the narrow Via San Martino was the narrower house where 
he was born, much as we see it now, and only a few rods 
away was his beautiful San Giovanni, the Baptistery where 
Dante was himself baptised in 1265, though, as Luria saw 
it, it had not the "gates of Paradise" which Ghiberti was 
commissioned to cast in 1403, but did not complete till 
1424 and 1452. There, too, was the Bargello, nearly half 
a century old ; and the Palazzo Vecchio, whose tower had 
for a century lifted up its " tall flower-like stem " to the 

' LURIA.' 255 

Italian sky ; and close to that the New Palace of the Sei- 
gniory, in whose spirit and details the Renaissance was 
bursting into bloom ; and not far away the more beautiful 
Or San Michele, begun in 1350 and completed in 1412 ; 
so that, most probably, Luria had this in mind, when fore- 
casting the new burst of art that peace would bring upon 
the trail of war he prophesied. 

'Gainst the glad heaven, o'er the white palace-front 
The interrupted scaffold climbs anew ; 

The statue to its niche ascends to dwell. 

Best of all, that thing of beauty, Giotto's campanile, which 
has been a joy for five long centuries, was then the freshest 
wonder and delight, completed, as it was, in 1387 ; albeit 
more beautiful to-day than it was then, as everybody knows 
who has compared the warm, rich, mellow colour of its in- 
crustation with that of the Duomo's, now but seven years 
old. Wherefore it seems that Luria was not drawing on 
the future when he imagined " beautiful Florence at a 
word laid low," and caught his breath to say, 

Not in her domes and towers and palaces, 
Not even in a dream, that outrage ! 

One dome, however, and the greatest, had not yet begun 
to be, that of the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore ; for 
though the church was begun by Arnolfo, in 1294, the 
dome of which Michel Angelo said, " Better than thee I 
cannot, but like thee I will not," was not undertaken by 
Brunelleschi till 1420, nor finished till 1434. Of Luria's 
Duomo all that remains to us is a short stretch of wall 
back from the front on either side. He had, you will 

his fancy how a Moorish front . 
Might join to, and complete the body, . . . 
A Moorish front, nor of such ill design. 

He made a charcoal sketch of it upon the curtain of his 
tent. Mr. Cooke tells us that a sketch for such a front has 


actually been discovered. But neither Moorish, Gothic, 
nor Renaissance facade was built until our day. Begun in 
1875, it was finished in 1886 ; and it is rich enough to 
please a fancy rich as Luria's with all the ardors of the 
orient earth and sky. 

The aesthetic life of Florence does not find more apt 
expression in the course of ' Luria ' than its sharp, intellect- 
ual subtlety. That is merely incidental ; this is the stuff 
of which the character of Braccio is made. Machiavelli 
was not born till 1469 ; but the seeds and weak beginnings 
of the politics which he embodied in ' The Prince ' had 
long existed in the State, controlling its domestic and its 
foreign policy alike, " the broad sure ground " of Braccio 
that every man was selfish at the core, a knave at heart. 
True to the life also is that idealisation, that impersonation 
of Florence, as if it were a living creature to admire and 
hate and love and scorn and live for or die for, as the 
need might be. Dante's great poem overflows with this 
personification and the appropriate sentiments in heaven 
and hell and on the purgatorial stairs, as it does also with 
the factional and party jealousies and hatreds that threaten 
to burn up Domizia's noble heart. 

But all these things are nothing to the one thing in 
* Luria,' the play, that makes it an unspeakable possession, 
for this is Luria, the man. In dramatic art, this kind of 
thing is always and unquestionably the best, the creation 
of a splendid personality, heaven or hell inspired ; but if 
of heaven, so much the better, for it is by the beauty of 
holiness, the height of character, that we are drawn to 
better things much more than we are driven back on them 
by the monstrous vision of things hateful and unclean. 
The tragedy which depends upon the poetic justice meted 
out in the fifth act to teach its moral lesson, comes in no 
questionable shape, as Shakespeare used the phrase. It is 
too obviously a ghost for us to question it. If Desdemona, 
when her Moor " puts out the light and then puts out 

* LTTBIA.' 257 

the light," and Cordelia strangled on the breast of Lear, 
do not allure us by their intrinsic qualities, Shakespeare 
has failed of his intent. The true function of the drama- 
tist is to create men and women who think, speak, and act, 
not as he would have them, but as they must, and always 
with the accent of their individual life. When the crea- 
tion is a personality that conquers us by its intrinsic grace 
and charm, so that we feel that we would rather far be 
such an one in any misery or distress than to forego such 
excellence, then literature and ethics have met together ; 
righteousness and art have kissed each other. So have 
they done in Browning's ' Luria.' His Moor of Florence 
is such a personality. 

He has, it seems to me, the reality, the solidity, of the 
best dramatic art. He is no charcoal sketch, like his own 
of the Duomo, which won Domizia's approving smile. We 
have no flat colour here, nor low relief, but such modelling 
that you can walk around it and look at it from every side. 
Browning could not have created him without often think- 
ing of the Moor of Venice, and we follow in his steps, 
finding here another large and simple nature, with the breath 
and freedom of the desert places in his manners and his 
speech. His words drink colour up from his own East. 
His images are all reversions to his former state, as where 
he argues with himself in favour of a faith built up on 
calm sagacity. 

Such faith stays when mere wild belief would go ! 
Yes when the desert creature's heart, at fault , 
Amid the scattering tempest's pillared sands, 
Betrays its step into the pathless drift 
The calm instructed eye of man holds fast 
By the sole bearing of the visible star, 
Sure that when slow the whirling wreck subsides, 
The boundaries, lost now, shall be found again, 
The palm trees, and the pyramid over all. 

The sun is in his talk, as in his blood. 



Ah, we Moors get blind 
Out of our proper world, where we can see ! 
The sun that guides is closer to us ! There 
There, my own orb ! He sinks from out the sky ! 

So in that passage which is better known than any other 
in the play, and has done more royal service : 

My own East ! 

How nearer God we were ! He glows above 
With scarce an intervention, presses close 
And palpitatingly, his soul o'er ours : 
We feel him, nor by painful reason know ! 
The everlasting minute of creation 
Is felt there ; now it is, as it was then ; 

His hand is still engaged upon his world. 

In the continuance of this splendid passage, we find that 
Luria, for all his elemental largeness and simplicity, is no 
mere pulse of feeling, no, nor was from the beginning. 
He had not escaped the fascination of the Tuscan mind, 
whereby his native hue of resolution had been somewhat 
sicklied o'er ; but that mind has drawn him from afar by 
laying hold of something in him kindred to itself. " And 
inasmuch," he says, 

as Feeling, the East's gift, 

Is quick and transient comes, and lo, is gone 
While Northern Thought is slow and durable, 
Surely a mission was reserved for me, 
Who, born with a perception of the power 
And use of the North's thought for us of the East 
Should have remained, turned knowledge to account, 
Giving Thought's character and permanence 
To the too transitory feeling there 
Writing God's message plain in mortal words. 

To which Domizia's answer is, and Browning's too, no 
doubt, that Northern Thought needed his Eastern Feeling 
more than this needed the Northern Thought. He is 

Whose life re-teaches us what life should be : 
What -faith is, loyalty and simpleness. 

4 LURIA.' 259 

Not only have we in Luria " a free and open nature 
that thinks men honest when they seem to be so," after 
the manner of Othello, but in Braccio we have his intel- 
lectual antithesis, as in Shakespeare's play we have lago. 
But whereas in lago's unmoralised, unconsecrated intellect 
we have a badness so unmitigated and complete that we 
have sometimes wondered whether we have here a char- 
acter or merely the personification of a quality of mind, in 
Braccio we have a nature not incapable of nobleness nor of 
responding to its touch. lago's love of mischief is a love 
of art for art's sake. He has no definite purpose. He has 
no least anticipation of the hecatomb of victims that will 
drench the altar of his hate. But as he works his scheme, 
the mischief has for him an ever-deepening fascination. 
He is caught and hurried onward in the rush of his own 
ecstasy of crime. But Braccio's end is clearly appre- 
hended, and it is a worthy end, the good of Florence. 
He is devoted to her cause, her safety, her pre-eminence. 
Nor does he stain his fair intentions with foul acts, if I 
may turn about Sir Thomas Browne. He is completely his 
own dupe. In arguing that Luria must abuse his power 
and victor}^, he thinks that he is going on the broad sure 
ground, " the corruption of man's heart." Even if he 
had felt less confident of this, he would have given Flor- 
ence and not Luria the benefit of his doubt. With this 
major premise, " Man seeks his own good at the whole 
world's cost," the minor one need not be much to insure 
a conclusion fatal to the Moor, especially when this minor 
premise is not only compounded of such things as Luria's 
simplicity and incomprehensible generosity (as where he 
had sent back Tiburzio's cohort) had furnished, but is 
qualified with the necessity of making Florence safe .at 
any cost. Safe ! not merely from another despot, that 
was not the worst, as Braccio's imagination prefigured the 
event. The worst was Luria's barbaric force, so offensive 
to his pride of intellect. 


Brute-force shall not rule Florence ! Intellect 
May rule her, bad or good as chance supplies : 
But Intellect it shall be, pure if bad. 

Lapo, his secretary, considering less curiously, lei=js certain 
of his major premise, so construing less sternly Luria's 
" petulant speeches, inconsiderate acts," moreover, without 
Braccio's passionate jealousy for Florence and her rule by 
Intellect alone, leans to the side of Luria early in the 

That man believes in Florence as the Saint 
Tied to his wheel believes in God ! 

But Braccio is not convinced. He is no more convinced 
by Luria's tearing of the unopened letter that declared his 
doom. And when he (Braccio), acknowledging the truth, 
argues his case for Florence against Luria, we half expect 
that Luria will side with him against himself, so evidently 
is Braccio's love of Florence and his devotion to her 
good the mainspring of his life. What compared with 
hers is any individual life ? What had been Luria with- 
out her ? So great is Braccio's confidence in his position 
that when Luria reminds him that he is the captain of a 
conquering army and can call in his troops to arbitrate, 
and asks Braccio what he will do in that event, Braccio 
makes answer, 

I will rise up like fire, proud and triumphant 
That Florence knew you thoroughly and by me, 
And so was saved. 

He will make the very stones of Florence cry against the 
all-exacting, noughtrenduring Luria. " Reward ! you will 
riot be worth punishment." I sometimes wonder if this 
mingling of the good and bad in Braccio's mind and action 
does., not teach the most important lesson of the play; if 
here is not the essence of the tragedy, as everywhere in 
life, the " captive good attending captain ill," the imper- 
ceptible but sure degrees by which the generous motive or 
the kind!} disposition slips into the character of vice and 


The antithesis of ' Luria,' the heart against the head, 
spontaneity against reflection, impulse against calculation, 
nothing is more characteristic of Browning than this. 
He returns to it a hundred times. He never wearies of 
its illustration. He applauds it in ' Ivan Ivanovitch,' in 
' The Statue and the Bust,' and in * Cristina.' Rightly 
interpreted, as Mr. Henry Jones has shown conclusively, 
the opposition between head and heart is " that between 
a concrete experience, instinct with life and conviction and 
a mechanical arrangement of abstract arguments." This 
is the antithesis of Luria and Braccio. Luria's feeling, 
heart, spontaneous impulse, is the manifold experience of 
his own and many other lives concentrated in the vision 
of the hour. His faith is organized experience, character 
sublimated to nature. First thoughts are best in morals 
because they are the expression of the total man, not of 
his mere logic-chopping understanding. When this is 
brought to bear upon the mandatory deliverance of a good 
conscience, it is generally because the voice of conscience 
seems too stern, and we are seeking some excuse from 
doing its entire behest ; and questioning the obvious good 
of other men is pretty sure to find the flaw it seeks. This 
was what Jesus called the sin against the Holy Ghost, so 
hard to be forgiven. Why, but because to be forgiven, 
we must first believe in the forgiving heart. This is 
Braccio's sin. His is that casuist's return- on the sim- 
plicity, nay, the coherent unity of the moral sentiment, 
which paralyses faith, and which, as Browning's dialectic 
has so often shown, can make white black, wrong right, 
and heaven hell. His defect, whatever Browning meant 
it to appear, was not excess of intellect or lack of heart, 
but that he had in him the mind of Rochefoucauld, and 
not " the mind of Christ." 

And still we dally in the porch of 'Luria's ' significance 
for our moral life. Step we across the threshold and look 
up, and its great dome overarches us like Brunelleschi's 


there on that Duomo in whose shadow Luria liked to see 
the happy people keeping festival. What is it but the 
daily miracle of the development of character by the 
influence of personality? This is how virtue can be 
taught. This it is that wears the fine old motto noblesse 
oblige, but with a difference, for it is the nobility which 
shames our weakness and complacency and compels us to 
rise into its height, compels us to believe in nobleness ; 
wish it might be ours ; will it to be so. But our life is so 
different from that of this mercenary Moor fighting against 
Pisa, Lucca, and Siena a hundred years before Columbus 
came, " sailing straight on into chaos untried " ! Our 
battle-fields are such narrow ones, hemmed in by the four 
walls of kitchens, nurseries, counting-rooms, manufac- 
tories, school-rooms, and the like. Our enemies do not 
come up against us with swords and spears, with musketry 
and cannon. They are not foreign enemies. They house 
in our own breasts. They are the passions lurking there, 
the selfishness, the greed, the anger, the revenge, the 
base indifference to social good, the aimlessness and idle- 
ness, the slack performance of our daily work, our railing 
accusation of the bad, as if we knew what blasts had 
blown upon them from the tropic or the arctic zone. True, 
very true ! But Luria's real battle-field was narrower 
than any street in Florence, any nursery or counting-room 
in Boston or New York. It was his own clouded, rent, and 
bursting heart, to love Florence as Othello Desdemona, 
and to know that she had played him false. There are 
such battles raging all the time in proud and humble 
hearts upon our streets, though we do not suspect it, 
except now and then, when, with Emily Dickinson, we 

like a look of agony 
Because we know it 'a true. 

And the help to fight such battles comes from whence ? 
From men and women who touch our lives in the same 
way as Puccio's and Jacopo's and Domizia's and Braccio's 

'LURIA.' 263 

were touched by Luria's. The circumstances are never 
twice the same. The spiritual laws are as invariable as 
those which keep the stars from wrong ; and that which 
Luria did somewhere between -Florence and Pisa, or 
nowhere save in Browning's glorious imagination, is being 
done by thousands and tens of thousands whom no poet 
ever sings; and that which those plotting and counter- 
plotting against Luria had done for them by his nobility, 
thousands and tens of thousands every day are having 
done for them by men and women who are no Lurias in 
their height of circumstance, but only in their height of 
soul. They conquer by the vision of a truth and good- 
ness whose beseeching cannot be withstood. It is not 
anything they say, but what they do, that is their criticism 
on our folly, and their invitation and incitement to the 
higher things. The most of us can find such without 
painful searching. We desire them, and they are sitting 
at our doors. One of the best in literature is Browning's 
Luria. In literature and life they furnish us the incre- 
ments by which " inexhaustibly the spirit grows " in 
power and use and happy faith in Nature, Man, and God. 
Let us walk, our weak hands in their strong hands. 

Through such souls alone 
God stooping shows sufficient of his light 
For us i' the dark to rise by. And I rise. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, April 24, 1894.] 

IT requires some courage to present oneself as an outsider 
and critic before a company of professed lovers and stu- 
dents of a poet like Browning. To appreciate fully a 
writer of such breadth and volume, to get oneself into his 
inner life, to nestle in his brain, as Emerson says of Plato, 
it seems almost necessary to have spent years in his com- 
pany, to have grown up with him, to have tried and tested 
him in all moods and on all occasions. My own acquaint- 
ance with Browning has not been of this nature. It has 
been less a gradual growth of insight into new beauty and 
helpfulness than the result of systematic critical study; 
and I therefore myself recognise in it a tendency to insist, 
perhaps too strongly, on the literary side rather than on 
the emotional and moral. I do not wish, however, for a 
minute to lose sight of the fact that Browning's great 
influence and importance are largely owing to the ethical 
quality of his work. 

Of the dramas of Browning two only are, properly speak- 
ing, historical : ' Strafford ' and ' King Victor and King 
Charles.' ' Paracelsus ' may rather be called biographical, 
if even that. In ' The Return of the Druses,' however, 
though neither characters nor incidents appear to have any 
historical foundation, so much reference is made to the 
manners and religion of a very peculiar people, that I feel 
it necessary to call your attention first to that portion of 
my subject. 


The small tribe known by the name of Druses and in- 
habiting the southern part of the region of Mt. Lebanon, 
has been for ages a marked and distinct race, holding aloof 
equally from their Maronite Christian neighbours and from 
the Mohammedan Turks. Their religion and history, 
though they have been made the subject of a good deal of 
study, still remain involved in some obscurity. It is not 
even positively known from what division of mankind they 
originally sprang. Though Arabic in speech, good authori- 
ties tell us that they are not Arabic by blood. The tradi- 
tion referred to in Browning's play, that they are descended 
from a body of Crusaders, led by a wandering Count of 
Dreux, seems to be entirely unfounded, and is even ana- 
chronistic as used by Browning, since it was not invented 
till the sixteenth century. They themselves have a theory 
that they are connected by race with China, and that many 
devotees of their creed are to be found in that country. 
The latest authority that I have consulted, Mr. Haskett 
Smith, maintains in all seriousness that they are the lineal 
offspring of the Masons who built King Solomon's Temple, 
and instances in proof of this that one of them pressed his 
hand with the precise grip peculiar to modern free-masonry, 
and seemed to be initiate in other mysteries of the craft. 

Whatever be the origin of the Druses, the life they lead 
seems more closely akin to Semitic than to European 
habits. They are monogamists in theory, but divorce is 
very common among them, almost as common as in some 
parts of the United States. 

The Druses, like the Arabs and other pastoral races, are 
noted for their hospitality. Every one who has had any- 
thing to do with them dwells on this side of their character. 
At the same time, while ever ready to welcome the stranger 
and receive him within their doors, they are singularly 
uncommunicative and reluctant to impart any of the 
secrets of their religion. It is this which makes it so 
extremely difficult to get at the facts about them, and it is 


only by actual theft that enthusiastic travellers have been 
able to possess themselves of any of the sacred Druse 
writings. In one case, at least, the fanaticism of these 
people was carried so far that they burned the house of a 
man who had stolen valuable manuscripts in order that 
they might be destroyed. 

Nevertheless the nineteenth century is persistent when 
its curiosity is once aroused, and opposition only whets its 
ardour. It is possible nowadays to glean from various 
sources a fairly good general idea of the Druse religion 
both as to history and as to doctrines. Before the actual 
appearance of Hakim, the way was prepared by a schism 
in the Mohammedan religion caused by the sect of the 
Shiis and afterwards developing in a variety of forms, the 
main tendency of which was to refine and subtilise 
the sternly practical note of the Koran by allegorical and 
mystical interpretations. These later abnormal phases of 
Mohammedanism may, I suppose, be traced to the influ- 
ence of Alexandrian Platonism and Platonised Christianity. 
At any rate they lent themselves admirably to the devices 
of an ingenious priesthood, who conceived a complicated 
system of initiation into the profounder doctrines, and by 
means of it worked upon the natural enthusiasm and 
credulity of the Oriental peoples. 

The especial doctrines of the Druse religion depend, 
however, upon what might almost be called a historical 
accident. In the year 1019 the Khalif Hakim Biamrillahi 
began to reign in Alexandria. He offers us one of those 
instances in history where an average brain and heart come 
into possession of absolute power and are completely be- 
sotted by it, toppled over into the very insanity of tyranny. 
In this he was like Nero and Caligula, and, like them also, 
he came, after a few years of supreme domination, to 
regard himself as raised above the ordinary level of man- 
kind, as the incarnation of the Deity on earth. The 
Oriental temper, at once more servile and more fanatical 


than the Aryan, enabled him to indulge this delusion with 
far more freedom than did his Roman predecessois. We 
are told by the historian that " those who sought audience 
of him were obliged to say on entering his presence : 
' Hail, thou One and only One, who givest life and death, 
who bestowest riches and poverty.' Nothing pleased him 
more than this salutation. One of his adulators, having 
entered the place of prayer at Mecca, struck the black 
stone which is there with his spear, and cried out, ' O 
fools! Why do you bow down to and kiss that which 
can neither benefit nor injure you, while you neglect him 
who is in Egypt, who has the issues of life and death in 
his hands ? ' On one occasion, being exasperated by 
some slight attempt at resistance, " he called together his 
council and the chief officers of his army, and gave the 
latter orders to surround Cairo, set fire to it, pillage it, and 
massacre all its inhabitants who showed any resistance. 
The African troops and his own corps of slaves proceeded 
to execute his orders with the greatest alacrity. The in- 
habitants endeavoured to defend themselves, but in vain. 
The fire gained ground on all sides, and the work of pillage 
and massacre went on for three entire days. Hakim, in 
the mean time, went daily to the heights of Karafa, where 
he could have a good view of the fighting and hear the 
cries of the combatants. Coolly pretending not to know 
what was happening, he asked the standers-by what was 
the cause of these disturbances, and on being told that 
the troops and slaves were sacking the town, he exclaimed : 
' The curse of God be upon them ! Who gave them orders 
to do it?'" 

This interesting personage is the Messiah of the Druse 
religion, the incarnate Deity who is supposed to have re- 
appeared in the Djabal of Browning's play. Sects have 
been founded by saints, by philosophers, by fanatics, even 
by voluptuaries ; but I doubt whether there is any record 
of another religion which has at the bottom of it a liar, a 


murderer, and a maniac combined. It is to the credit of 
human nature that the worship of Hakim did not survive 
him in the country which was immediately fresh and 
smarting from his atrocities, but was only maintained in 
the far distant land of Lebanon, where, under the austere 
and melancholy cedars, any vestiges of historical fact that 
may have lingered in it were soon shrouded in the silver 
mist of mythical tradition. The first missionary who 
preached this new creed was Isniael Darazzi. Darazzi 
began by asserting Hakim's claim to divinity in Cairo, but 
Mussulman orthodoxy revolted, and the enthusiastic Apostle - 
was obliged to fly. He betook himself to the Lebanon 
and there preached to the Druses, who, however, according 
to one tradition, had not before been known by that name, 
but received it as being followers of Darazzi. This is one 
of the instances, like that of Amerigo Vespucci, where a 
name gets attached in the wrong place ; for the Druses of 
a later day came to regard Darazzi with all possible de- 
testation, after he had been anathematised by the later and 
more popular prophet Hamze'. 

This Hamze', more politic than Darazzi, kept his position 
at Hakim's side until the death or disappearance of the 
latter, and then became the real elaborator and founder of 
Hakim-worship. The inconvenient escapades above alluded 
to, which would seem so inconsistent with the character of 
a candidate for divine honours, were explained by Hamze' in 
a mystical fashion. " A letter has reached me," he writes 
in one of his works, " on the part of some of our brother 
Unitarians," the Druses are very proud of the name 
Unitarian, " in which they state certain remarks which 
have been made by some men void of all religion, who give 
a licence to their tongues conformable to the nature of 
their works, as regards the actions of our Lord and of all 
the things which he permitted to be done in his presence. 
These actions, however, contain infinite wisdom (but all 
warning is thrown away upon them) and are far different 


from those of this gross and ignorant world, whose works 
are, for the most part, but a jest and a play. They do not 
know those persons that all the actions of our Lord 
whether in play or in earnest, are filled with infinite 
richness and depth, the wisdom of which he will make 
known in his own good time." 

It would be, of course, impossible to give in limited 
space any detailed account of the doctrines of the Druse 
religion. Those who are curious on the subject may con- 
sult the two thick octavo volumes which De Sacy has 
devoted to it. The fundamental dogma is that the One 
God has no attributes whatever. Intelligence, Universal 
Intelligence, is the first of his creatures, but is represented 
as a creature only in order that the total lack of determi- 
nation in the Deity may not be interfered with. The One 
God has appeared on earth in ten successive incarnations, 
of which Hakim is the last and will remain so, until he 
himself re-appears at the appointed day. Just as the 
Deity is incarnated in these various human shapes, so the 
Universal Intelligence also appears in each successive 
incarnation, as an accompanying prophet, and thus we 
have a place conveniently arranged for Hamze*. It has 
occurred to me that Browning may have had this in mind 
when he introduces Khalil in the play as the companion of 
Djabal, though I do not remember anything that would 
actually indicate it. The relation of Drusism to Chris- 
tianity is much that of Mohammedanism : that is, Christ, 
though not looked upon as properly divine, is given a high 
place in the list of prophets. 

The Druses hold the doctrine of transmigration, and say 
curiously enough that the number of souls in existence 
is fixed and unchangeable ; and further that the proportion 
belonging to all religions is equally fixed. When a 
Mohammedan dies, his soul passes into another Moham- 
medan and a Christian into a Christian. But when a 
Druse dies, his soul may, after a life of especial purity and 


holiness, pass away from earth and enter into an angel or 
some superior heavenly being. On the other hand, after a 
debased and evil life, it may have to pass to some lower 
animal, a dog, a wolf, or a tiger. Thus they believe that 
the way of eternal life is only to be found in their religion ; 
but they hold that they and they only are in danger of 

According to Churchill, whose book is interesting, though 
extremely disorderly, the Druses make use neither of 
religious ceremonial nor of prayer. The Ockals, or ini- 
tiates, who are supposed to have penetrated all the mys- 
teries of religion, form, it is said, about fifteen per cent of 
the adult population, and the remainder, Jehals, as they 
are called, simply obey, their refusal to give information 
to strangers being probably largely founded on their own 
ignorance. As Hotspur says : 

I well believe 

Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know 
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate. 

Morally the Druses observe with considerable strictness 
the injunction laid upon them by their religion. Their 
conduct in regard to marriage I have already referred to. 
The rest of the moral law is laid down in the seven laws, 
which are given with considerable differences in different 
writers. You will find a statement of them, on apparently 
excellent authority, in the ' Browning Cyclopaedia.' Strict 
and entire veracity is everywhere inculcated, but the effect 
of this on the Western mind is somewhat diminished when 
we find that the law applies only so far as Druses are con- 
cerned, and that a considerable amount of dissimulation is 
permitted in dealing with outsiders, the natural result, 
alas, in a community who feel that their hand is against 
every man and every man's hand against them. The 
Druses have not, however, in general the fierce aversion to 
Christians which characterises the Mohammedans; yet it 
is stated by one writer that in spite of their use of mission- 


ary schools and apparent sympathy with Christian tenden- 
cies, no Druse has ever yet been converted to Christianity. 
The careful study of Druse history and manners shows 
itself everywhere in Browning's play. For instance, when 
in Act II. Anael in arraying herself for her nuptials puts 
on the khandjar, or dagger, 

You tell me how a khandjar hangs ? 
The sharp side, thus, along the heart, see, marks 
The maiden of our class. 

Churchill tells us that "Another ordinance of Hakim 
enjoins all his subjects, great and little, near or at a dis- 
tance, to carry arms attached to their girdles." On the 
other hand, when Djabal says of the Prefect, 

I discharge his weary soul 
From the flesh that pollutes it ! Let him fill 
Straight some new expiatory form, of earth 
Or sea, the reptile, or some aery thing, 

he seems to be contradicting the belief above referred to, 
that Druses alone enter into animals after death. More- 
over, it is necessary to understand the general character of 
the Druse religion and especially the prominence of the 
traditional and deified Hakim, in order to appreciate fully 
the position of Djabal, who is the central figure in the 
play. Nevertheless, there would seem to be no historical 
basis for the stoiy, and the date left half-blank is sufficient 
evidence of an imaginary plot. The scene is laid on a 
small island of the Western Mediterranean, one of the 
Sporades, where a band of Druses, exiled from Lebanon by 
the Turks, have taken refuge. The island is under the 
control of the Knights Hospitallers, who figure in another 
English drama of quite a different character from Brown- 
ing's, ' The Knight of Malta,' by no means the poorest of 
the great collection of plays which goes by the name of 
Beaumont and Fletcher. The government of the Prefect 
appointed by the Hospitallers has been oppressive and 


cruel to the last degree, and the Druses, driven to mad- 
ness, are just on the point of revolting when the play 

Nearly the whole of the first act is occupied in making 
clear the situation,- though with a good deal of bustle and 
vivacity. Various subordinate Druses are introduced, 
anxious to begin their rebellion by pillage. They are 
checked by Khalil, who thus has an opportunity to repeat to 
them and the audience what has been done for them and 
is to be done by Djabal, the prophet, the Messiah, the re- 
incarnation of Hakim, who is to be their leader. Note 
that the same device is employed by Shakespeare, who 
makes Prospero in wrath chide the mutinous Ariel by re- 
calling to him details necessary to explain the play. It is 
one of the many expedients invented by dramatists to 
avoid the dreary necessity of telling the audience what 
they ought to know, better at any rate than the bald pro- 
logues of Euripides or the eternal two-gentlemen-meeting of 
the lazy Fletcher. Toward the end of the act Loys arrives 
from Rhodes, Loys, the friend and foil of Djabal through- 
out the play, the one Christian who is beloved by the Druses, 
whom Djabal has got rid of on that account, and who now 
returns, having been appointed prefect by the Knights 
Hospitallers and being full of enthusiastic hopes of bene- 
fiting his Druse friends in the future. This appointment 
and these hopes Loys refrains from discovering: it is an 
important element in the action of the play, but I am not 
sure that it is wholly consistent with the open, boyish char- 
acter of Loys, who would be more likely to proclaim it at 
once and toss his cap in the air. 

Act II. brings us to Djabal, who is the centre-piece of 
the play. I shall have something to say about him in 
detail later on ; but whether he be drawn successfully or 
not, the whole interest turns upon the conflict in his mind 
between the desire to play Hakim, to be the Messiah and 
Saviour of his people, and the strong impulse of honesty, 


backed by the European tinge which his nature has ac- 
quired by a sojourn in France and in the family of Loys. 
On the stage his incessant self-dissection could not but be 
wearisome. Again and again he falls into the approved 
monologue strain. But here, as in his other plays, Brown- 
ing, with immense ingenuity, contrives to relieve the 
tedium of long speeches by melodramatic management, 
which, as Arnold says of the horn in ' Hernani,' must thrill 
the human nerves as long as they are what they are. This 
combination of a lack of real, comprehensive action with 
skilful stage effect is so characteristic of all Browning's 
dramas that I must call your attention to the numerous 
examples of it in this play. So, just as Djabal concludes 
his long debate, deciding against his prophetic mission, 

No Khalif, 
But Sheikh once more ! mere Djabal not 

[Enter KHALIL.] 

God Hakeem! 
'T is told ! The whole Druse nation knows thee, Hakeem. 

Throughout the second act Djabal continues balancing 
the situation, his agony being augmented by a dialogue 
with Anael, sister of Khali 1, and the devoted adorer of 
Djabal both as god and man. A debate likewise goes on 
in Anael's mind between these two points of view, and 
there is an extraordinary scene in which the two are repre- 
sented, each involved in a tempest of doubt and discussing 
it in long asides, while the play stands still. This is 
broken up by the appearance of Loys, again most skilfully 

Djabal '. Loys of mankind the only one 
Able to link my present with my past, 

Thence able to unmask me, I 've disposed 
Safely at last at Rhodes, and 

[Enter KHALIL.] 

Khalil. Loys greets thee ! 



In Act III. Loys declares his love to Anael, which, of 
course, affords her a basis of comparison between his frank, 
joyous manhood and the dubious deity of Djabal. Then 
the Prefect reveals to Loys that his own recall and Loys' 
appointment were brought about at his own desire, he hav- 
ing squeezed the island dry and being afraid of the ven- 
geance of the Druses, at which Loys is naturally somewhat 
aghast. The talk between them concludes with another 


piece of stage effect, when the Prefect, just going to his 
death, raises the arras and says, 

This is the first time for long years I enter 
Thus without feeling just as if I lifted 
The lid up of my tomb. 

You will understand that I am not finding fault with this 
sort of melodramatic management. A little of it is very- 
effective, and in writers professedly picturesque and super- 
ficial like Scott, or Dumas, or Calderon, we cannot com- 
plain. But in a writer who professes to strike at once 
right down to the roots of human nature, we do not want 
our attention distracted by shall I say pyrotechnics ? 

As we pass on to the next act, the same thing meets us 
again. Let us take it with Shakespeare full in our view. 
Djabal, just on the point of killing the Prefect, waits in 
the anteroom. It is the second act and the great crisis of 
' Macbeth.' 

Djabal. Round me, all ye ghosts ! He '11 lift 
Which arm to push the arras wide ? Or both ? 
Stab from the neck down to the heart there stay ! 
Near he comes nearer the next footstep ! Now ! 
[As he dashes aside the arras, ANAEL is discovered.} 

Could any nerves forbear to thrill at that? And after- 
wards ? How does it help us the least in the world to get 
at Djabal's character, which is all that interests now? 

Anael has killed the Prefect. Djabal, overcome, con- 
fesses his falsehood, the vanity of his pretensions. In 
striving to be more than man he has become less. Anael, 


crushed with utter horror, flies, after reproaching him bit- 
terly and threatening to tell the Druses. Djabal deter- 
mines to persist in his mission. Lojs enters at last to 
make his ill-fated revelation. The guards of the Nuncio, 
who has just arrived from Rhodes, having discovered the 
murder of the Prefect, arrest Djabal, and Loys, when fully 
convinced of his guilt, rejects him utterly. 

Act V. opens impressively with a tumultuous crowd of 
Druses speaking the nervous and energetic prose of 'A 
Soul's Tragedy. 1 The Nuncio, with but a very small 
force, finds himself in a very delicate position. Finally he 
works on the ignorance of the people, brings Djabal before 
them, and urges him to prove his divinity. Djabal retains 
his courage and overawes them, till at length Anael is pro- 
duced, veiled, as his accuser. When Djabal recognises 
her, overcome by his better nature, he prepares to accept 
his defeat ; but she, with one cry of triumphant anguish, 
salutes him Hakeem and dies. The Druses are, of course, 
more than convinced, the Nuncio in despair ; and Khalil 
makes a speech full of grovelling adoration, imploring 
Hakeem to restore Anael, a speech consistent enough with 
character and situation, but one of those revelations of the 
abysmal depth of human gullibility which Browning some- 
times brings before us. Then, for the first time, I think, 
in the play, Djabal seems really to take himself momen- 
tarily for Hakeem, and upbraiding the Druses with their 
want of faith, charging Loys to guide and lead them, turn- 
ing with a few last words of love and affection to the body 
of Anael, he plants the dagger in his heart. 

The character of Djabal is, as I have said, the centre, 
the turning-point of the piece. Is he enough of an Atlas 
to sustain so great a weight? Apparently Browning 
wished to give us a study of that religious enthusiasm, not 
to say fanaticism, so common in the Middle Ages, and 
especially in the Orient, which half-educated, half intelli- 
gent, obscurely conscious at instants of its own falsehood, 


yet for the most part is hurried by intense mystical feeling, 
by the sense of a great moral duty to perform, by the devoted 
sympathy of others, by the sweet titillations of vanity, to 
the assumption of a mission supernatural and even divine, 
which shall liberate and rejuvenate the world. It is a fasci- 
nating subject, but a terribly difficult one, for it is necessary 
to steer narrowly between despicable self-delusion on the 
one side and a hypocritical self-consciousness on the other. 
Indeed, most characters of this description fall into one pit 
or the other in real life, and the history of religion fur- 
nishes a thousand maniacs or impostors for one Mohammed. 
But, as I understand it, Browning aimed to draw a 
Mohammed, and it seems to me that he failed. If Djabal 
is not a sheer impostor, it is only because he is so terribly 
afraid of being one. On his very first appearance he be- 
gins to discuss the inconsistency of his position, and con- 
tinues to do so till he is actually forced at the conclusion 
to recognise himself. He does, indeed, tell us in his first 
speech that he never felt hesitation or doubt in his course 
before, but that, though eminently convenient for the 
dramatist, is hopelessly inconsistent with the overwhelm- 
ing fashion in which the mood takes hold of him later on. 
Nor is his own explanation, that his love for Anael first 
made him ashamed of himself, sufficient. Men of that 
stamp, Orientals especially, do not overset their whole 
career for love. Here, I suspect, is the whole root of the 
trouble. Djabal is not an Oriental. He is a modern 
Englishman placed in an anomalous situation. He is, in 
short Robert Browning. When he talks about " trans- 
cendental helps," when he says, 

I learn from Europe : all who seek 
Man's good, must awe man, by such means as these. 
We too will be divine to them we are ! 

I with my Arab instinct, thwarted ever 

By my Frank policy, and with, in turn, 

My Frank brain, thwarted by my Arab heart, 


While these remaine in equipoise, I lived 
Nothing ; had either been predominant, 
As a Frank schemer or an Arab mystic, 
I had been something, 

we are listening to Browning, all Browning, nothing but 

But perhaps it will be said that the last passage gives 
the real clue to Djabal's character, and that he is not at all 
meant to be the fanatical enthusiast, but rather, the doubter, 
who perceives a great opportunity and is unable to seize it 
in short, a Druse Hamlet. This is certainly borne out 
by his attitude all through the play ; but I think it is in 
fact wholly inconsistent with his situation. Hamlet never 
acts, has never acted. Action is thrust upon him, but he 
is wholly passive, wholly unequal to it. Djabal has been 
the heart and soul of the Druse revolt, has contrived every- 
thing, arranged everything and suddenly he is stricken with 
an utter paralysis and begins to analyse himself endlessly for 
the benefit of the audience. The inconsistency is hopeless. 

Now look at Anael. She offers a strong contrast to 
Djabal both in her eager, feminine devotion, and in her 
strong, unthinking Oriental energy, which acts sooner than 
it speaks. This is the main outline of her character, better 
preserved than that of Djabal. Yet she, too, analyses her- 
self, she, too, is harassed with doubts as to the single-hearted 
and religious quality of her affection for Djabal : 

My faith fell, and the woeful thought flashed first 

That each effect of Djabal's presence, taken 

For proof of more than human attributes 

In him, by me whose heart at his approach 

Beat fast, whose brain while he was by swam round, 

Whose soul at his departure died away, 

That every such effect might have been wrought 

In other frames, though not in mine, by Loys, 

Or any merely mortal presence. 

She, too, indulges in metaphysical speculation, interesting 
in itself and appropriate to a young lady of the nineteenth 


century, a member of the Browning Society, but singularly 
sophisticated in an Oriental maiden, 

Death ! a fire curls within us 
From the foot's palm, and fills up to the brain, 
Up, out, then shatters the whole bubble-shell 
Of flesh, perchance. 

To settle her doubts and speculations she takes the best 
(shall I say the most feminine way ?) to settle all doubts 
in this uncertain world, action. She anticipates the 
wretched Djabal in killing the Prefect. Then red-hot 
from this murder, shaken in nerve and brain, she is met by 
Djabal's confession of his own hypocrisy. She refuses to 
believe him: it is a hallucination, "the bloody business 
that interprets," until she can doubt no longer. Rushing 
from him, she refuses to have any part in the miserable 
cheat. Her only words when she appears in the final 
scene to confront her former idol are first, Djabal, uttering 
her love to him as man, and then a final cry, in which 
wells out the whole passion of her nature, Hakeem. It is 
not indicated to us nor is there any reason why it should 
be what was Anael's motive in saluting him thus ; it is 
natural to infer that she was not clear herself as to whether 
the full splendour of his divinity beamed upon her in that 
supreme moment with no uncertain radiance, or whether 
she was simply anxious to justify him, to secure his honour 
and success at the expense of her own veracity. Either 
explanation would probably have been regarded by Brown- 
ing as thoroughly feminine, if we may judge from many 
instances that he has given us of woman's devotion. In 
Anael, then, as in Djabal, though in a less degree, there is 
a very strong mixture of the nineteenth century ; and if 
you wish to feel this fully, I should advise reading Pierre 
Loti's ' Roman d'un Spahi,' where you will find the char- 
acter of an Oriental woman portrayed in a very different 


Of the other characters in this play Loys is the most 
important, and forms in every respect a contrast to Djabal. 
Frank, joyous, and boyish, gentle and generous, the dis- 
covery of Djabal's deceit is to him as repulsive. and dis- 
gusting as to Anael. The naivete* of the young knight is 
perhaps excessive, as is usual with Browning's heroes, who 
seem to have walked through the world with their eyes 
upwards, sublimely unconscious of the numerous pitfalls it 
contains, and too frequently tumbling into them. 

The Prefect and the Nuncio, less prominent in the 
action, are more accurate and satisfactory than the other 
three characters. They belong, with not very great differ- 
ences, to the class of men whom Browning has perhaps 
most powerfully depicted, the Blougrams more or less 
modified, the men who take life and its conditions as they 
come, who aim not to be moral, but to be decent on the 
outside and conform to the conventional. How excellent 
is the Prefect stunning Loys by his infamous self-revelation ! 

In order that we may complete our examination of ' The 
Return of the Druses,' I will ask you to look for a few 
minutes at the style. Browning is not, I think, sufficiently 
studied from this point of view. Those who admire him 
are so engaged with the purely moral and psychological 
side of his work, that they hardly care to pay great atten- 
tion to details of execution and of workmanship. Yet 
surely it is true of Browning, as of every other poet and 
writer, that all his qualities of mind and thought are inti- 
mately bound up in his manner of expression. This is no 
less universally true of men of action and of scientists than 
of men like Flaubert, whose whole life is spent in the 
polishing of a few sentences. Do we not find the swift 
decision and the practical energy of Grant reflected in his 
quick, strong language, and the unfailing sincerity and 
patience of Darwin in the openness and perfect simplicity 
of his books ? 

Metrically Browning shows in the play we are consider- 


ing the same skill and resource as distinguish him always. 
He is sometimes accused of harshness and roughness of 
metrical expression ; nor has he he does not care to have 
the liquid sweetness of ' The Idyls of the King ; ' but 
one should bear in mind the intolerable monotony which 
blank verse takes on in the hands of one who cannot con- 
trol it, to appreciate the endless variety without any feel- 
ing of effort of which Browning is master. His dialogue 
has the ease of conversation, equally remote from the 
heaviness of Marlowe and the jerkiness of Massinger. 
Without falling into the tricks which disfigure the verse 
of Fletcher, he has caught much of that incomparable 
rhetorical effect, in which Fletcher is the easy though un- 
appreciated leader among our dramatic writers. Note the 
magnificent emphasis on the final him in this passage, 
where the verse swells and falls like the sea it expresses : 

This dim secluded house where the sea beats 
Is heaven to me my people's huts are hell 
To them ; this august form will follow me, 
Mix with the waves his voice will, I have him : 

and here is one in another tone, where the bold welding 
of the two lines by the double-ending participle has a 
magical effect : - 

And see yon eight-point cross of white flame winking 
Hoar silvery like some fresh-broke marble stone. 

Again, here is a line unscannable, and just by that very 
thing immensely effective in its place, 

I went, fire leading me, muttering of thee. 

But the style in the narrower sense, the diction of the 
play, is curiously inferior to the verse ; and it is on account 
of this contrast that I wish to call your attention to it 
somewhat in detail. We have here and there exquisite 
single lines, 

He 'd tell by the hour 

With fixed white eyes beneath his swarthy brow 
Plausiblest stories. 


Where 's your tall bewitcher 
With that small, Arab, thin-lipped silver mouth ? 

They pass and they repass with pallid eyes. 

And there are fine and striking passages. Perhaps the 
most striking in itself is that at the beginning, from which 
I quoted above. There are others, like the concluding 
speech of Djabal, which have immense dramatic effect ; 
but even that speech, taken in detail, is rather weak than 
strong. And so with almost all the longer passages : they 
fail in themselves to seize you, to carry you away ; they are 
marred and blurred by defects of expression. In the first 
place there is an astonishing amount of what is sensational, 
of what Arnold calls " Surrey melodrama," meaning, I 
suppose, something like his own inconceivable " tyrannous 
tempests of bale." I have picked out a few samples from 
many. Loys' 

Thus end thee, miscreant, in thy pride of place. 

On, Druses, be there found 
Blood and a heap behind us, 

Khalil's anti-climax, 


One rule prescribed, ye wither in your blood, 
Die at your fault. 

After withering in one's blood, whatever that may mean, 
mere dying seems a little pale. 

But occasional slips in this direction are not all. One 
can find them in Victor Hugo, a master of words. One 
can find them in Shakespeare. What is more serious is 
the lack of grasp on language as a whole, tliinness, pale- 
ness, bloodlessness. 

Loys, the boy, stood on the leading prow, 
Conspicuous in his gay attire. 

It is feeble. 

How lone a lot, though brilliant, I embrace. 

And Djabal's great speech at the climax, which I have 
already placed beside Macbeth's 


Round me, all ye ghosts ! He '11 lift 
Which arm to push the arras wide ? Or both 1 
Stab from the neck down to the heart there stay ! 

But why should n't it stay there ; where should it go ? 
When every word of Shakespeare is crowded and overflow- 
ing with force, Browning's words seem almost superfluous. 
And still more trying than this weakness and mere lack of 
color, is the introduction of a word or phrase positively 
jarring and discordant. Perhaps Djabal's " transcendental 
helps " is rather dramatically than literarily improper, but 
what shall we say of, 

No majesty of all that rapt regard, 


and yet have no one 
Great heart's word that will tell her, 


In that enforced, still fashion, word on word, 

Whose brain, while he was by, swam round, 


That banner of a brow, 

or lastly Anael's preposterous, 

And obstacles did sink 
And furtherances rose ? 

Some of these might almost be called Browningisms, 

No majesty of all that rapt regard. 

And yet have no one 
Great heart's word that will tell her, 

and may not appear so objectionable to others as to me. I 
know many will regard them as of no importance one way 
or the other. But I think that, occurring as frequently as 
they do, they suggest very interesting generalisations as 
to literary characteristics that are much more important. 
Before leaving the subject I wish to call attention to one 
short passage. I shall make no comment on it, but simply 
commend it as a subject for study, containing, as I think 


it does, in a brief space many of the excellences and defects 
of Browning's style. It is the passage in which Anael 
addresses Djabal after discovering his deceit : 

Hakeem would save me. Thou art Djabal. Crouch ! 
Bow to the dust, thou basest of our kind ! 
The pile of thee I reared up to the cloud 
Full, midway of our Fathers' trophied tombs, 
Based on the living rock, devoured not by 
The unstable desert's jaws of sand, falls prone, 
Fire, music, quenched : and now thou liest there 
A ruin, obscene creatures will moan through. 

Almost every word of that passage might be analysed with 

Hitherto I have confined myself to ' The Return of the 
Druses,' the work of Browning which I was requested to 
discuss ; but the observations I have made may, I think, 
be readily extended to all his other plays. If we leave 
aside ' Paracelsus ' and ' Pippa Passes,' which are hardly 
plays in the technical sense, they all 'A Blot in the 
'Scutcheon,' ' Colombe's Birthday,' 'King Victor and King 
Charles,' ' Luria ' turn in the main upon some moral 
debate, some knot of difficulty in the principal character, 
which makes that character the real central point of inter- 
est, and which also involves long monologues, to the great 
detriment of the movement of the piece. But and here 
is the noticeable point any tediousness which might re- 
sult from this is relieved by such admirable touches of 
theatrical effect as we have seen all through ' The Return 
of the Druses.' Opinions may differ as to the legitimate- 
ness of these effects, as to their literary value, but I would 
recommend to your attention the remarks of Mr. Sharp on 
' A Blot in the 'Scutcheon,' which I should be inclined to 
extend to Browning's other dramas. You will find it 
stated by Mr. Sharp that Dickens declared that he knew 
no love like that of Mildred and Mertoun, no passion like 
it, no moulding of a splendid thing after its conception 
like it, and that the author of ' David Copperfield ' affirmed 


that he would rather have written this play than any work 
of modern times. Dickens was a most facile, versatile, 
and ingenious writer; but to be thus praised from his 
standpoint seems to me one of the hardest pieces of 
Browning's fate. 

As to the characters on whom this dramatic edifice is 
reared, they strike me as in general, like Djabal, interest- 
ing suggestions, conceptions, but not equal in finish or 
force to sustain the burden that is laid upon them. Let 
pass Mildred and Mertoun ; but are Colombe and Valence 
much better ? Are they struck and stamped down into the 
solid flesh of human nature ? Is not Valence just a little 
niais, as the French say ? In the crisis of his feeling, he 
too is pale, like Djabal : 

The heavens and earth stay as they were ; my heart 
Beats as it beat : the truth remains the truth. 
What falls away, then, if not faith in her ? 
Was it my faith, that she could estimate 
Love's value, and, such faith still guiding me, 
Dare I now test her ? or grew faith so strong 
Solely because the power of test was mine ? 

And Charles and Victor? D'Ormea especially is but a 
weak reflection of the Richelieus and the Bismarcks, or 
the Machiavellis, whom Browning apparently sought to 
depict. Domizia is one of the most vigorous sketches in 
any of the plays; but Luria is, after all, a stage Moor. 
Put him beside Othello, whose savage nature shows in the 
quick sweep of his unreflecting passions, not in sentimental 
reflections like these : 

Feeling a soul grow on me that restricts 

The boundless unrest of the savage heart ! 

The sea heaves up, hangs loaded o'er the land, 

Breaks there and buries its tumultuous strength ; 

Horror, and silence, and a pause awhile : 

Lo, inland glides the gulf-stream, miles away, 

In rapture of assent, subdued and still, 

'Neath those strange banks, those unimagined skies. 


The truth is strangely enough that Browning's 
plays, with all their brilliancy and versatility, do not give 
us characters that take possession of us and dwell with us, 
as do the characters, not of Shakespeare only, but of Beau- 
mont or Massinger, of Sterne or Fielding, of Scott or 
Thackeray. Of all the glories of English literature this is 
the greatest, from Chaucer to Meredith, the endless fertility 
in the creation of living men and women ; yet Browning, 
with all his command of human nature, has, in his purely 
dramatic works, increased this multitude but very little. 

Nor should I hesitate to generalise what I have said on 
' The Return of the Druses ' in regard to style. Every- 
where through Browning's plays we find passages of 
dramatic effectiveness ; much less often, I think, passages 
of flawless and satisfying beauty, such as the bewitching 

Like a late moon, of use to nobody. 

On the other hand we do find frequently an infelicity of 
language, that tendency to mar fine situations by insipid 
or inadequate expression, on which I have already dwelt at 
large. The bit in ' A Blot in the 'Scutcheon ' which drew 
Mr. Sharp's criticism is an example among many. Mildred 
forgives Thorold thus : 

You 've murdered Henry Mertoun ! Now proceed ! 
What is it I must pardon ? This and all ? 
Well, I do pardon yon I think I do. 
Thorold, how very wretched you must be ! 

In all the plaj-s, as in ' The Return of the Druses,' the com- 
mand of rhythm is noticeable and the metre varied with 
infinite ingenuity and skill. 

Browning's plays form but a small part of his poetical 
work, and of the rest I am neither called upon nor com- 
petent to speak in detail. I should like, however, to touch, 
in closing, upon a few points. In the first place I think it 
important to observe how much Browning was master of 
the art of dramatic construction and management, which I 


have already alluded to. ' The Ring and the Book ' may 
perhaps be regarded constructively as a tour de force, and 
most readers probably weary at the repetition of the story, in 
spite of the study of human nature. Yet this danger is 
avoided with extraordinary skill, those points which are 
dwelt on at length in one narrative being touched lightly 
in another, while new ones are developed instead ; and in 
the hands of any ordinary writer the book would have 
gained as much in tediousness as it would have lost in 
penetrative insight ; though I venture to observe that the 
method of proceeding was discovered long, long before 
Browning. In the ' Clarissa Harlowe ' of Richardson we 
have the same alternate display of different points of view 
without the danger of repetition. But in his later long 
poems Browning's skill in construction appears fully, 
'The Red Cotton Night Cap Country,' 'The Inn Album.' 

Again, the metrical excellence of Browning's work as a 
whole is even more admirable than that of his plays. To 
say that he has not the lyrical grace of Temryson or Swin- 
burne would be beside the mark: he had no need of it. 
But for variety, for endless fertility of rhythmical resource 
in English metre, not even Swinburne can approach him. 
Take, for instance, the Alexandrine of ' Fifine at the Fair,' 
a measure never used before but once for a long poem by 
any English poet; and compare the variety and ease of 
Browning, his masterly use of the csesura, with the sturdy 
monotony of Drayton's ' Polyolbion ; ' and the dancing, 
lilting rhythm of ' The Flight of the Duchess,' scintillating 
with rhyme more ingenious than that of even Butler, or 
Swift, or Byron, is just as perfect in a very different kind. 

On the other hand, what I have said of Browning's style 
in the. plays would hardly hold for general application. 
In his later work the inadequacy largely fades away, and 
gives place often to a broad, firm touch, though sometimes 
to what seems like wilful confusion. 

We are left with the question of character, and on that I 


shall not venture. The monologue of Browning, though 
not particularly new (for how does it differ from the 
soliloquy, which has been a staple in the dramatic and 
story-writing market since literature began ?), received at 
his hands so novel, so elaborate a treatment, covers such a 
variety of subjects, that it seems almost like the creation 
of a new poetical world. Who can resist ' Fra Lippo,' or 
' Blougram,' or ' The Death in the Desert,' or a host of 
others ? Yet one feels just a little doubt about the method. 

I had the pleasure of being present at one of your meet- 
ings in the earlier part of the season, when a paper was 
read, which pleased me very much, dealing, however, more 
with the moral than with the literary side of Browning's 
work. I was especially interested in the discussion that 
came afterwards. Something in the weather or the conditions 
seemed to set every one apologising for Browning and insist- 
ing on his exclusive preoccupation with ethical rather than 
with aesthetic questions. And I remember your President 
said that Browning was, to be sure, ethical, but that this 
was an ethical age, and why should not he be ethical in his 
way as others in theirs ? 

Now this is a delightful point, for the whole question is 
about the way. This is an ethical age, a scientific, critical, 
psychological age ; and most readers, wishing to get at the 
intellectual kernel of things, reject a poetic, artistic, imagi- 
native husk, which hampers and obscures their vision. 
The superficial philosophy of the Augustan Age and the 
eighteenth century could afford to dress itself in the grace- 
ful turns of Horace, and Addison, and Pope. The fashion- 
able youth rolled it under his tongue like a choice morsel, 
went his way, and forgot what manner of man he was. 
But to-day people are intensely in earnest and terribly 
hurried ; they are almost universally impatient of poetical 
expression even for the very metre. Browning's one 
great interest and object is said to have been the study of 
the human soul. Well, I will tell you where you can find 


this carried out after the fashion of the nineteenth century, 
without poetical ornament, simply, psychologically : in the 
' Lundis ' of Sainte-Beuve. Sainte-Beuve, too, was, above 
all things, interested in the human soul. " I botanise," he 
said, "I am a naturalist of souls." He, too, wrote mono- 
logues after his fashion; for he constructed his articles 
largely of skilfully arranged quotations from books and 
letters of the characters he studied. The true difference 
between Browning and Sainte-Beuve lies in this : Sainte- 
Beuve was actuated by scientific curiosity ; good and bad 
were often no more than names to him ; what he cared for 
was the endless play and variety of human nature. Brown- 
ing was pre-eminently moral, always moral; all mankind 
are, for him, sharply divided into good and bad, and he 
shudders with fascinated horror at the wicked. 

It is, then, precisely the way in which Browning gives us 
his ethical study that is doubtful. Can critical, scientific 
thinking ever embody itself successfully in poetry ? But, 
at the same time, the supreme greatness of Browning lies 
in this very thing. The genius of his time split itself into 
two great branches : one confining itself to hard, cold, clear 
intellectual research, to plain prose, the other shutting 
itself off in a musical, imaginative world, the Parnassus of 
the French poets, a literary ivory tower, as Flaubert ex- 
presses it, out of the hurry and bustle of steam and rail- 
roads and evolution and socialism and the dust and dirt of 
common human life. Browning alone threw himself man- 
fully into the gap, proclaiming that poetry, the best birth- 
right of man, should not succumb, and be lost; that it 
should be now, as formerly, the medium of all that was 
best and most profoundly important in human life. It is 
for this effort and this determination, gospel one may 
almost call it, that he holds a place apart from other poets, 
and is the most striking poetical phenomenon of this 
closing nineteenth century. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Dec. 18, 1894.] 

BEFORE writing ' Mr. Sludge, the Medium,' Browning 
had given his readers, in ' Caliban upon Setebos ' and 
in ' Bishop Blougram's Apology,' similar studies of the 
philosophy of life, as based upon certain phases of con- 
dition and character. These poems are not to be regarded 
as attacks upon any system of religious thought, but rather 
as attempts to disclose the way in which some theories of 
things originate and develop. 

No Roman Catholic, for example, will blame our poet, 
or think it necessary to answer him, on account of Bishop 
Blougram. For he is not set forth as an exemplar of his 
faith, but only as an illustration of the way in which some 
natures might seek to justify their relation to it, and their 
acceptance of it. Every Roman Catholic is not a Bishop 
Blougram, any more than every Roman Catholic is the 
Pope of ' The Ring and the Book.' The man, and not the 
faith he professes, is the real object of the poet's consider- 
ation. A true faith may be held in an untrue way, or may 
be maintained by dishonest methods, or based upon un- 
worthy motives. A great religion may be so apprehended 
and applied as to make it seem mean and trivial, and, on 
the other hand, a poor religion may be ennobled and 
magnified by the use to which an earnest and sincere 
nature puts it. To depict a character who holds certain 
opinions is not necessarily either to condemn those opinions 



or to approve them ; it is merely to estimate the influence 
of the personal factor upon them. For this reason, it 
would be a mistake to regard ' Mr. Sludge, the Medium,' 
as merely an attack upon spiritism, or as an expression of 
the poet's dislike of it. As a man, indeed, there can be no 
doubt as to what Browning thought of it. Anybody who 
cares to know, can easily learn that he hated it, and had 
no patience with his wife's hankering after it. Whether 
in this he was right or wrong it is not necessary for us to 
decide. To the students of Browning's poetry it is indeed 
a matter of no special importance. They are concerned 
with what he has done or tried to do in his poem, not with 
his individual sympathies or antipathies. 

Viewed in this way, 'Mr. Sludge, the Medium,' is no 
more an assault upon spiritism than ' Bishop Blougram's 
Apology ' is an argument against Roman Catholicism. I't 
contains neither praise nor dispraise of the belief in spirit- 
ual communications, but is to be read as a careful study 
of an unworthy representative of that belief. The most 
that can be said of the poem from the standpoint of the 
spiritist is that the opinion is implied in it that the belief 
in spiritism is responsible for the nurture and growth of 
Sludges. But what of that? - F,vpry belief 7 like every 
-inn.n ) Vmq t.hft refect of Jts qualities. We may, so far as 
the consideration of the poem is concerned, leave out all 
discussion of the merits or demerits of spiritism, and con- 
centrate our attention upon Mr. Sludge. He is big enough 
to fill our vision and occupy our thoughts for a while. 

Nor ought we to blame Browning too severely because 
this study of Sludge has not the poetic merit of ' Caliban 
upon Setebos ' or of ' Bishop Blougram's Apology.' We 
do indeed have a right to think it would have been better 
if he had not attempted Sludge as a poetic subject. We 
cannot imagine Tennyson doing so, or even thinking of 
doing so, for a single moment. But Tennyson is not law 
for Browning, any more than Browning is law for 


Tennyson. At any rate, Browning has seen fit to select 
Sludge for his use, and has done his " human best " with 
him, and has, perhaps, succeeded almost as well with him 
as some of his critics might have done. To have made 
him as poetic as Caliban or Bishop Blougram, was mani- 
festly impossible. The material of Sludge was incapable 
of being fashioned in the same way. Caliban is pictur- 
esque in his monstrosity, and, like a pug-dog, seems 
beautiful almost by reason of his surpassing ugliness. 
Bishop Blougram belongs to an historic church, rich in 
grand traditions, impressive by reason of sacred and 
beautiful associations. He himself is endowed with an 
imposing personality. He is affable, courteous, learned, 
and subtle. In any conflict of wits he is not likely to 
come out second best. Much as he says, we cannot help 
feeling that he could say a great deal more. Both these 
characters, then, are capable of poetic treatment. But 
poor Sludge is of another and very different order. 

To begin with, he appears before us in a most humiliat- 
I ing position. He is in a state of pitiable contrition ; not 
only has he cheated, but what is still worse, for him, he 
has been caught. He protests that it is the first time, and 
that it would not have happened then if he had not mis- 
taken the champagne for Catawba, or if some spiteful spirit 
'had not led him astray. His patron, it is easy to see from 
the indications in the poem, is terribly angry. Although 
Sludge pleads by the memory of the sainted mother, he 
has no mercy. Despite all his grovelling, Sludge finds 
him implacable. Then Sludge shows another side of his 
nature. He grows ugly, and, like a rat at bay, he turns 
and tries to bite, 

Go tell then, who the devil cares 
"What such a rowdy chooses to 

But his strength is not equal to his spite. He is helpless 
in the firm grip of Hiram H. Horsefall what a mouthful 
for the poetic muse ! and his abusive outpouring is 


stopped by fingers that seem to pierce his windpipe. Most 
assuredly Sludge's first appearance does not win him any 
favour. He is neither dignified nor impressive. And the 
portraiture of him throughout the poem shows him to be 
a most despicable personage. He is ready to bully, to 
swagger, and to fight with any lie he can devise. He will 
betray even the cause he professes to serve, if only Horse- 
fall will let him go with the presents and the " V-notes." 

Then, too, how ignorant he is ! He does not know the 
difference between person and Person. He spells Bacon 
with a " y " and a " k," and places him in the times of 
Oliver Cromwell. He thinks Herodotus wrote his works 
in Latin, so they were not all Greek to him. Of course, 
ignorance is not a sin. Many a good man does not know 
any more about historical personages than Sludge. Only 
the other day I heard of a most excellent man who asked 
the keeper of the house of John Knox, through which he 
was being shown, where that eminent divine was preach- 
ing now. But a man who is a knave and also an igno- 
ramus is like a bitter pill without the sugar-coating, 
harder to swallow. 

Then, according to his own confession, Sludge is a 
coward. He is unable to tell the truth. He craves noto- 
' riety, and loves flashy clothing and big dinners. He re- 
grets all this, but he does not seem to find any means 
I of deliverance from it, in fact, he does not seem to have 
I agonised much to do so. Nor is there any sense of 
gratitude in the man, unless with the cynic we define it as 
an expectation of favours to come. He is always asking, 
" How much can I get out " of people ? He crouches like 
a whipped spaniel at Horsefall's feet, and kisses, or tries to 
kiss, his hand with thankfulness ; and then the moment he 
is out of sight he shakes his fist at him, and begins to de- 
vise malicious lies about him, and to call him a brute. To 
his face he calls Horsefall's mother a saint; behind his 
back he calls her a hag. He takes money from the man 


he hates. He whimpers and whines, but does not repent. 
His tears are often in his voice, but never in his heart. 
In short, Sludge lives before us an unwholesome, slimy 
creature, who crouches and fawns, and then turns and 
rends the hand that feeds him. Is it any wonder that 
Browning did not make him more poetical ? 

Sludge is indeed a poor specimen of human flesh, one 
of the very smallest of God's mercies. He has none of the 
qualities which sometimes render a rascal lovable. He 
is neither strong nor beautiful. Smarter than Caliban, 
he lacks his honesty. No more worldly than Bishop 
Blougram, he has none of his ability. And yet he is not 
altogether unworthy our study or the pains which a great 
psychological poet has taken with him. Even poor Sludge 
has some value for us. We are learning in these days that 
nothing exists too humble or too mean for the considera- 
tion of man. What God allows to be, must be well for us 
to know. If the naturalist devotes years to the ear of 
a mouse, why should we be unwilling to give a few hours 
to the study of the whole of even a poor sort of man ? 
Why study a bug, and refuse to study a humbug? And 
if the psychologist investigates the abnormal and diseased, 
in the hope that he may thus attain to clearer insight into 
the normal and sound, may not we also realise more 
vividly what truth and honesty are by tracing the sinuous 
career of a perverse nature like Sludge's? 

We need not like Sludge, nor admire him ; but we 
ought to understand him, because he too is part of the 
whole to which we ourselves belong. But it may be said : 
" This is true so far as the studies of naturalist, physiol- 
ogist, or psychologist are concerned ; but poetry contem- 
plates something quite different. The poet's time and art 
ought to be occupied with something better than the 
portrayal of the unpleasing and detestable. Poetry should 
not be sacrificed to any such endeavour. In fact, there is 
no chance here for poetry at all." Well, if one makes a 


definition of what poetry ought to be, and with what it 
ought to concern itself, it will be easy enough for him to 
pronounce judgment. The only trouble is that somehow 
or other the works of the poets themselves compel constant 
revision of all our definitions. Critics have been con- 
structing them age after age, and changing them to suit 
new conditions. Not seldom the poet has compelled the 
critic to enlarge and modify his rules of poetry. New 
conditions and other minds create new standards. The 
poetry of to-day has always seemed defective, indeed, 
hardly poetry at all to those whose rules are derived 
from the usages of yesterday. " This will never do," said 
Jeffreys of the poetry of Wordsworth ; but it has done. 
" This will not do," the critic may say of ' Mr. Sludge, 
the Medium ; ' but it is probable that the poem will be 
included in the conception of poetry which is steadily 
gaining ground in our day, and which the poem itself may 
be a factor in forming. Whether, then, ' Mr. Sludge, the 
Medium,' is good poetry or not must depend upon the 
definition of poetry which will finally be approved, or 
upon the taste which tends to produce that definition. 

It is useless to discuss the question whether this work 
is good poetry or not. Time alone can fully decide that. 
For myself, I am willing to confess that there is much 
that is unpleasing to me in the poem. Its sentences are 
often abrupt and unfinished, and its structure is rude. 
After having read ' Mr. Sludge, the Medium,' many times, 
I cannot recall a really great line or a passage which a 
reader might select for recitation. It will not bear com- 
parison with much that Browning has written. No one 
would claim that, if this were his only poem, it would 
give him a high r^ce among our great English poets. 
It is doubtful whether it has the quality of permanent 
interest. But, for all that, ?lt poem has a strange fasci- 
nation for me, which rc F . -adings only deepen. 
Others may not be able to i hould care for it; 


but that may be not so much my fault as their misfortune. 
That some people cannot enjoy what I do, does not in the 
least degree concern me. I am under no obligation, in 
such matters, to justify my likes or dislikes, and I am 
sure I could not do it if I tried. 

Suppose we grant the absence of poetic charm, does 
not the dramatic interest make large compensation ? 
Sludge certainly lives before us in the poem. We know 
him ; indeed, we can see him. He is not agreeable, but 
he is palpable; he is no abstraction, but a creature en- 
dowed with reality. Even his companion, Hiram H. 
Horsefall, though he never speaks a word in the whole 
course of the poem, makes a vivid impression upon the 
reader. Sure]y a work so full of dramatic life as 'Mr. 
Sludge, the Medium,' ought not to be lightly passed 

And now for the thought of the poem : its main object 
is to unfold Sludge's philosophy of life ; it is not Brown- 
ing's philosophy, but simply his statement in explicit form 
of the philosophy implied in Sludge's constitution and 
character. Perhaps this might have been taken for granted 
were it not for the fact that students of Browning some- 
times make him responsible for all the opinions of his 
characters, and condemn him for teaching a view of things 
which he has only sought to describe. 

Sludge's philosophy is based upon the common belief 
that there is another life after this, 

. . . there 's a world beside this world, 

With spirits, not mankind, for tenantry ; 

That much within that world once sojourned here, 

That all upon this world will visit there, 

And therefore that we, bodily here below, 

Must have exactly such an interest 

In learning what may be the ways o' the world 

Above us, as the disembodied folk 

Have (by all analogic likelihood) 

In watching how things go in the old home 

With us, their sons, successors, and what not. 


Spirits are reported to have appeared to people in the past. 
If so, then why not now as well as in Bible times ? If 
Samuel's ghost appeared to Saul, one's brother may appear 
to him (Sludge) to-day. In this way he seeks to establish 
the historic relations of his faith in the revelations of the 
spirits who have departed to those who still remain. 
He professes, it will be seen, no unusual faith, but one 
which has been more or less held from time immemorial. 
The good people about him profess to believe that such 
communications were once actual : why should they not 
be so here and now ? Perhaps the presence of those who 
have gone before may not be manifested in the same way. 
Different times and circumstances may call for different 
methods. These revelations, whatever they may have 
once required, now demand the peculiar man, with the 
adequate endowment. In our day we need the medium, 
" the seer of the supernatural ; " and Sludge is just the 
man for his day. So far allowing the validity of his 
premises, as the majority of people do Sludge occupies 
logically impregnable ground. What has happened once 
may happen again ; and it is, to say the least, not unreason- 
able to suppose that, if we inhabit a spiritual universe, and 
if in that universe the spirits of the departed are ever 
around us, there may be those who are fitted by ; their 
organisation to hold intercourse with them. So far Sludge 
deserves no censure. It may well be that here we have 
one who is only more sincere and consistent in his appli- 
cation of the prevailing faith than those about him ; one, 
too, who honestly believes that in the peculiarity of his 
nature he has a divine indication of the service he is to 
render. The defect in Sludge is not in his belief, strange 
I and improbable as it may appear to many, but in the 
I attitude in which he stands toward that belief. He is 
not to blame for his faith in the manifestation of the spirits 
of the dead to the living, or even in his conviction of his 
special function to mediate between the two, to see what 


others could not see. That faith, for all we know, might 
be perfectly true, and it is one in which myriads of the 
best men and women have lived and died. He might 
easily be mistaken as to the nature and scope of his 
capacity ; but very good people, who have done service for 
which the world is grateful, have been equally mistaken. 
| The real fault of Sludge is that he makes this faith of his 
'subservient to his selfish individual interests. He attempts 
to read life without reference to any sense of righteousness. 
He sees everything, not in the clear light of the law of 
right, but in the confusing light of his personal wants and 
wishes. Caliban viewed life from the standpoint of a 
nature that loved physical pleasure. Bishop Blougram 
read it from the standpoint of a man who relished the 
comfortable and convenient. But Sludge views all things 
with an eye single to his own profit. In his philosophy 
the universe revolves about himself, and is designed to 
secure him what he wants. So he cries, 

What do I know or care about your world 
Which either is or seems to be ? This snap 
O' my fingers, sir ! My care is for myself ; 
Myself am whole and sole reality 
Inside a raree-show and a market-mob 
Gathered about it : that 's the use of things. 

Never has the idealism of selfishness been reduced to 
lower terms. The world, the sun, the moon, and stars 
revolve for Sludge ! They were there, perhaps, for 
other incidental purposes, but in the main to serve him. 
Nothing is too great to indicate his smallest action, 

If I spy Charles's Wain at twelve to-night, 
It warns me, " Go nor lose another day, 
And have your hair cut, Sludge ! " 

Nothing is too trivial to contain its direction for his guid- 
ance. What is required of him is to study the signs. He 
must always be on the look-out with those smart eyes of 
his to find "the influences at work to profit Sludge." 


Providence works for him not merely in the movement of 
a planet, but in the boiling of a tea-kettle, in the flight of 
pigeons, in the dime that sticks in his pocket with a hole 
in it. God is behind the smallest objects: therefore he 
thinks himself " the one i ' the world, the one for whom the 
world was made." Out of this view of things comes his 
view of religion, 

Religion 's all or nothing ; it 's no mere smile 
O' contentment ; sigh of aspiration, sir 
No quality o' the finelier-tempered clay 
Like its whiteness, or its lightness ; rather, stuff 
0' the very stuff, life of life, and self of self. 

To that we may assent, and do, in some sense of our 
own. Viewed in that way, the lines are true, and even 
attractive. But when we interpret them, as we must, 
from the Sludgian standpoint, all the charm dies out of 
them, and we see that in that conception of it religion is 
only an eager and constant search among the objects of 
existence for what will help one to get on. Regarded in 
that way, Sludge is right when he declares that he is more 
religious than Horsefall. If religion consists in looking 
everywhere and all the time for what may be to one's 
advantage, he cannot be accused of unfaithfulness to his 
ideal. If that is religion, then Sludge deserves a place in 
the calendar of the saints. 

But in looking about him so carefully and so micro- 
scopically for the signs and omens to guide him, it is 
remarkable that he never once asks whether these will 
lead him into the knowledge of what is right, or enable 
him to do it. TbP* ; s no consciousness on his part of any 
jieed of moral direction or strengthening. Everything is 
to teach him how to succeed in his dubious plans; but 
nothing seems ordained to help him to tell the truth or to 
behave like an honest man. What a strange theodicy is 
that in which a planet floats in space to warn a man to 
cut his hair, but in which nothing even hints that the 


universe is straight, and that a crooked man can by no 
means be fitted into it ! The only key Sludge has to 
open the way to the secrets of the universe is his smart- 
ness. He never looks within to ask whether he ought to 
cheat, but he puts apple-pips in his eyes, and lets the 
chance of which one sticks or falls decide whether he will 
cheat or not the next man he meets. 

Sludge claims that he fulfils a necessary mission in the 
world. He brings together the scattered facts which his 
peculiar endowment enables him to perceive, and so makes 
the miraculous the commonplace. But granted that his 
claim is a just one, he does not even hint that it will 
provide any help for righteous living. He emphasises 
only the advantage to which it entitles Sludge. 

Sometimes, however, it happens that the facts are not 
sufficient, more are needed to satisfactorily demonstrate 
the fact of immortality. What shall be done when these 
are lacking ? A truthful nature would say, " Wait until 
we have them." Not so Sludge : he never thinks of truth, 
but always of the comfort which an assured belief in im- 
mortality will give. By all means make everybody happy. 
That will help people over the hard places, and make them 
think they are walking on solid ground, which is just 
the same as if one were walking on it. A tissue of lies 
can help the traveller over dizzy heights as well as one 
built on the granite of fact. Truth needs a lie to leaven 
it, to make it go. 

Put a chalk-egg beneath a clucking hen, 
She '11 lay a real one, laudably deceived, 
Daily for weeks to come . . . 
. . . Every cheat 's inspired, and every lie 
Quick with a germ of truth. 

Sludge at last concludes that he is a public blessing. 
Life seems so flat and meaningless ! Opportunity comes 
when we cannot use it; and when we are able to do so, 
then the opportunity is gone. We are strong when we 


" ' | are not wise, and wise when we are not strong. What 
is our knowledge of the life to come ? Often, at the best, 
that we know nothing. Then comes Sludge, and, with 
good help of a little lying, 

You find full justice straightway dealt you out, 
Each want supplied, each ignorance set at ease, 
Each folly fooled. 

Why hesitate to lie, then, when men may so easily be 
made sure of what they wish to believe? Then all the 
sceptics are liars : why not defeat them by lying on your 

(own side, and so make the truth stronger against them ? 
And then, too, he is not the only liar. In this world of 
falsehood there is nothing for it but to lie in sheer self- 
defence. He claims that he is no more of a liar than the 
poets and the historians, who are praised for their im- 
aginative genius. They lie to be interesting ; he for the 
comfort of others and his own profit. That is all the 
difference he thinks there is between them. 

We all know what to say to such a conscienceless plea 
as this. We know Sludge is wrong, all wrong, and that 
his philosophy_is only a_ theory to justify his practice. It 
is only the apology of one who hopes to get along by his 
smartness and by keeping his eyes wide open for all signs 
of personal profit. But, for all that, it is an effective 
argument against all those who think the events of life are 
ordained for the special purpose of serving their individual 
good. It is imlRef| a fedurMn arf, absurdum of the theory 
of special providence. And Sludge is bright enough to/ 
see that, and he urges it with all the force that is in him. I 
He reminds Horsefall how on one occasion, having missed 
his handkerchief, he returned for it, and so missed the 
train which carried thirty-three " whom God forgot " to 
death. That insignificant event Horsefall regarded as a 
special interference for his welfare, or for what he sup- 
posed to be such. But, urges Sludge, if that be so for 


you, why should it not be so for me ? If Providence re- 
vealed itself in the missing handkerchief, why not for me 
in the sale of my dog, which went mad the next week? 
Am I of any less importance than you, Hiram H. Horse- 
fall, if you are rich and live in a big house ? It may seem 
to make little difference to you whether I succeed or fail, 
live or die, and so to you it is ; but please remember that 
" Sludge is of all importance to himself." As against 
Horsef all, Sludge is right ; and it must be allowed that he, 
at least, has no logical objection to interpose. Just here 
the speech of Sludge assumes a triumphant tone. He evi- 
dently realizes that he has met his opponent on his own 
ground, and come off victorious, 

Oh, you wince at this f 

Ton 'd fain distinguish between gift and gift, 
"Washington's oracle and Sludge's itch 
0' the elbow when at whist he ought to trump ? 
With Sludge it 's too absurd ? Fine, draw the line 
Somewhere, but, sir, your somewhere is not mine ! 

Nor is Sludge's theory of the value of deception, bad as 
it is, anything new or unusual. In fact, if he had only 
known it, he might have cited ancient and honourable 
authority for his position on this matter, and have found in 
much present theory and more present practice ample war- 
rant for his course. Plato taught that it was right to lie 
for the State, and Clement that it was right to lie for the 
Church. Why, then, should not Sludge lie in behalf of 
man's faith in immortality ? Of the three motives, his is 
the noblest. Again, when St. Chrysostom preaches endless 
punishment, not because he thoroughly believes it, but be- 
cause he thinks the people of Constantinople need it, he is 
only a more eloquent Sludge. So, too, when we suppress 
some fact in the interest of our religious or scientific 
theory, or when we are afraid the truth will injure our 
system of theology, or when we imagine that some decep- 
tion may serve to enshrine the reality, or make it more 


impressive, or more comforting, I do not see 
what right we have to throw stones at Sludge, we are 
in glass houses as well as he. 

The real answer to Sludge is that we are in a true uni- 
verse, and we ourselves must be true if we would learn its 
secrets. We are also in a universe which includes us all, 
great or small, in its wisdom and love, and which does, 
no doubt, reveal its meaning in the birth of a rose as in the 
rush of a planet, in a Pompilia as well as in the Pope ; but 
no man need hope to comprehend that meaning unless he 
is conscious of a purpose to tell the truth, and to do what 
is right. To thp snnl Hftvm'rl of a. moral aim thp. nrnvfvrsft 
jfl a p1nn1pRa_rnajpj a confused assemblage of things and 
events whose purport can only be guessed, in the vague 
hope that sometimes its guesses may perchance be correct. 
The man who cares only for what is pleasant, but who has 
no sense of loyalty to truth, soon discovers that he belongs 
not to a cosmos, but a chaos. He is all adrift, and he 
always will be so long as his philosophy is only the expres- 
sion of the thoughts and motives of his lower self. 

Such a man need not hope to convince the world of the 
actuality of that life in which it already has faith ; for a 
true man is better proof of immortality than any number 
of "manifestations." We may doubt and explain away 
the latter ; we cannot do so with the former. We are not 
so sure that any phenomenon of spiritism is genuine, and 
proves what it claims to prove, as we are that our faith in 
immortality must somehow find itself realised in a universe 
that wakens it. The Sludges would make another world 
as real, and as common too, as this, by giving demonstra- 
tive proof of its existence. But may not our ignorance be 
providential ? May it not be that, while we have enough 
of faith in the future life to enlarge our vision of human 
possibilities, we have not enough to prevent us from put- 
ting our best into the life that now is ? 

Like most of us, Sludge never seems to suspect that his 


own aims and motives are wrong, but lays the blame on 
others. His is the old cry, "I might not have become 
what I am if others had not urged me on." He cries, " It 's 
all your fault, you curious gentlefolk ! " When he had 
thought he had seen a ghost, it was they who had encour- 
aged him. They had incited him, and had suggested what 
they would like him to see and to do. He had only re- 
sponded to their desire to witness still further development 
of his powers as a medium. His patron coveted the glory 
of " ferreting out a medium ; " and he had only tried to 
provide him with what he longed for. If any one thought 
he was a cheat, he was put down in this rough-shod man- 
ner : " You see a cheat ? Here 's some twelve see an ass." 
Everybody about him, so Sludge urges, explained away his 
mistakes and excused his faults. When he commits gross 
blunders, they are at once imputed to the disturbing pres- 
ence of doubters who " puddled his pure mind." Then 
those who had no real belief in anything, and who in con- 
sequence were able to play safely with superstition, called 
aloud for fair play, and so gave him greater currency. 
Everything conspired to induce him to become what he 
did. The literary man used him for artistic purposes, 
while others found in him and his doings a topic for con- 
versation somewhat more interesting than the weather. 
Sludge's account of the various causes which had formed 
him is acute and valuable, and we may well suppose it to 
be true. Supply and demand usually correspond. What 
people are anxious to have, they are pretty apt to find. 
The endeavour to learn what lies beyond the veil must 
always make Sludges possible. But what of it? After 
all, Sludge is none the less blameworthy. He chose to live 
only for Sludge, for the materialistic Sludge, with his 
inordinate love of showy clothes and big dinners and noto- 
riety ; and, to get these, he yields to the social pressure of 
which he now complains. But, at the worst, society was 
responsible, not for his creation, but only for his nurture, 


It can only develop what is already in a man. And he 
who cares more for his momentary interests and the grati- 
fication of his surface desires than he does for the true and 
the right will always yield to its seductive solicitations. 
He must not blame these, but himself. The only deliver- 
ance from the forces that tend to lead the soul astray is 
the love of truth. 

IWe may well inquire whether Sludge really believes in 
his own defence. It might well seem that he could not. 
It overlooks such obvious facts, and is so full of inconsis- 
tent ideas. But human nature is a " mighty deep." The 
prophet and cheat may be rolled in one. Sometimes we 
can discern in the same face the most contradictory quali- 
ties. Not seldom do we find in one peculiar personality 
the insight of the seer and the outlook of the fraud. Prob- 
ably Sludge did somehow believe in himself ; for the de- 
ceiver is deceived. The Unr l^arn^ tr> believe his own 
stories, and the cheater is often worse cheated than any 
ojie_else. But the sad fact faces us that in kludge the better 
side did not win the day. The moral sense was not strong 
enough to unfold the higher side of the man, of which we 
seem now and then to catch fitful glimpses. All his fine 
theories, and even all his gratitude, so profuse in its ex- 
pression, evaporate in the heat of a hate made more intense 
by the consciousness of discomfiture and financial loss. 
And so the last we see or hear of him is not the possible 
man of Browning not Sludge as God in His loving pur- 
pose meant him to become, but the superficial Sludge in 
the baleful glare of his moral putrescence. He has left 
his old patron, with his money in his hands and the words, 
"Bl-1-less you, sir!" on his lips. But now he is alone, 
and this is what he says, 

R-r-r, you brute-beast and blackguard ! Cowardly scamp ! 
I only wish I dared burn down the house 
And spoil your sniggering ! O what, you 're the man "? 
You 're satisfied at last ? You 've found out Sludge ? 


We '11 see that presently : my turn, sir, next ! 

I too can tell my story : brute do you hear 1 

You throttled your sainted mother, that old hag, 

In just such a fit of passion : no, it was . . . 

To get this house of hers, and many a note 

Like these. . . . I'll pocket them, however . . . five, 

Ten, fifteen . . . ay, you gave her throat the twist, 

Or else you poisoned her ! Confound the cuss ! 

Where was my head ? I ought to have prophesied 

He '11 die in a year and join her : that 's the way 

... I said he 'd poisoned her, 
And hoped he 'd have grace given him to repent, 
Whereon he picked this quarrel, bullied me 
And called me cheat : I thrashed him, who could help ? 
He howled for mercy, prayed me on his knees 
To cut and run and save him from disgrace : 
I do so, and once off, he slanders me. 
An end of him ! Begin elsewhere anew ! 
Boston 's a hole, the herring-pond is wide, 
V-notes are something, liberty still more ! 
Beside, is he the only fool in the world 1 

And so he went; but, if we may trust in recent police 
items in our papers, he has returned with seven others 
worse than himself. In one thing Sludge is absolutely 
right, Horsef all is not the only fool in the world. 




[Read before the Boston Browning Society, March 24, 1895.] 

THE literature of this century derives its distinction 
from, if not its superiority over, that of any preceding 
century, from the fact that it has kept close to life its 
passion, its pathos, its power. 

The movement it has told of life, 
Its pain and pleasure, rest and strife. 

It has revealed 

The thread which binds it all in one, 
And not its separate parts alone. 

We hear much in these days of the Spirit of the Age, 
and perhaps too little of the Spirit of the Ages. The spirit 
of any age, however enlightened it may be, is an unsafe 
guide if it does not embody the best of what the ages have 
found to be true. We are constantly elevating costume 
above character, the transient above the abiding, phenom- 
ena above noumena, method above spirit. Our attention 
is directed away from the great sources of power to the 
forms under which that power has revealed itself. 

The moral progress of the world is most impressive 
and instructive when viewed in the great moments of the 
inner life, those moments awful when power streamed 
forth; and the soul received "the Light reflected, as a 
light bestowed." These are the periods when earnest souls 


get glimpses of the eternal truths ; it is then that a height 
is reached in life from which are glimpses of " a height that 
is higher." This is merely affirming that, consciously or 
unconsciously, the race has lived and moved and had its 
being in one or the other of two great conceptions of 
human life : the ideal or the material ; or, in terms of 
philosophy, Idealism or Materialism. The various forms 
of Art are but the revelations of man's ascent of the heights 
and his vision there. The Vedic Hymns, the Hebrew 
Psalms, Greek Art in all its forms, are but the meeting- 
place of the finite and the infinite. Where there is no vision 
the people perish, is the revelation of history. 

The history of English literature reflects the same move- 
ment from Chaucer to Tennyson ; and even in our own time 
we find that, after the vision of the closing years of the last 
century had faded into the light of common day, in the 
early years of this we were again stirred to new activity by 
the vision and the voice of Carlyle, Tennyson, Browning, 
Ruskin, and Emerson, and this has been the message : 

Tis life whereof our nerves are scant, 
Oh life, not death for which we pant ; 
More life and fuller that I want. 

As the man of rich and varied interests has been the 
man of the largest influence, the most interesting charac- 
ter, because of his sympathy with the life of our common 
humanity and his belief that it is at heart sound, so the 
literature which has reflected this godlike enthusiasm has 
been the literature of the greatest uplift in an age of mar- 
vellous material interests, an age which, in its worship 
of the actual, was in danger of losing the real. The in- 
spired singers and prophets of the century have sounded 
this note : 

In faultless rhythm the ocean rolls, 
A rapturous silence thrills the skies ; 

And on this earth are lovely souls, 
That softly look with aidful eyes. 


Though dark, God, thy course and track, 
We think Thou must at least have meant 

That nought which lives should wholly lack 
The things that are more excellent. 

Mr. Richard Holt Hutton has given us a study of four 
leaders, guides to thought in matters of faith, Newman, 
Arnold, Carlyle, and George Eliot, who influenced the 
age through the art of prose. They represent certain 
phases of movement toward the new world where human- 
ity is regarded as a spiritual totality, living, moving, and! 
having its being in the life of the Eternal. One of our 
own members has done a similar work in ' The Life of the 
Spirit in the Modern English Poets ; ' l for it is in the poetry 
of Byron, Shelley, and Keats, Arnold, Clough, and Ros- 
set.ti, Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning, that we 
find most clearly reflected the great awakening. If these 
writers found a volume necessary to represent adequately 
their impressions of this movement, but little will be ex- 
pected of one who attempts to treat it in a single hour. 
My aim is a simple, and I trust a modest, one of trying to 
show how one of the earliest of this gladsome choir, the 
poet of serene and blessed moods, whence came visions 

Something far more deeply interfused 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 

clasps hands across the century with that later fellow- 
labourer, the poet of tasks who, as he inarched breast 
forward, cried, " Speed, fight on, strive and thrive." 

It is indeed worth our while to study the mind and art 
of such teachers at a time when certain other aspirants for 
leadership come to us and say : " You can dismiss as a fond 
dream the doctrine of a Divine Father. You are of age, 
and do not need a Father." Or again : " We are realists, 
looking facts in the face, and see no evidence in the world 
that throughout the ages one unceasing purpose of wisdom 
and goodness runs." 

Miss Vida D. Bcudder. 


There is a story, told with a great deal of satisfaction by 
the dalesmen of the little valley of Seathwaite in the English 
Lakes, of an old rector who in time of drought had been 
ordered by the bishop to offer prayers for rain. On the day 
appointed for that service he went out and made the usual 
observations as to sky and wind, and then went to his chapel 
and announced to his congregation that it was of no use 
for them to pray for rain so long as the wind was blowing 
over Hard-Nott. He did not think it wise to fly in the 
face of Providence as revealed in the laws of nature. 

We are not always so wise as was this Cumberland dales- 
man, for we often invoke blessings from the .great creators 
of literature in defiance of the fact that the wind is blow- 
ing over Hard-Nott. We do not study the conditions 
governing our own natures, we forget that the wind is 
blowing over Hard-Nott. 

There was a time when it was thought possible to fully 
understand a great author, or a great era in history, by 
confining one's attention to that author or that era ; but 
methods of interpretation in literature and history have 
been revolutionised by the application of the great prin- 
ciple of Evolution. The greatest obstacle to progress in 
the new methods has been the disposition of a coterie or a 
clique to close its eyes to everything but the one object 
of veneration, be that object a person, a book, or a given 
period in the world's history. 

We have had during the last quarter of our century 
some striking illustrations of the new spirit, the most 
noteworthy being in the sphere of what is known as 
Higher Criticism. The Lowell Institute lectures of two 
years ago, by a prominent College president and orthodox 
clergyman, furnished a beautiful example of the new spirit 
and the new method. The lecturer sought for the religious 
content in institutions and in literature which twenty-five 
years ago would have been considered as totally irreligious. 

When the Wordsworth Society was instituted, Mr. 


Matthew Arnold took great pains to warn its members 
against the spirit of a clique. He said : " If we are to 
get Wordsworth recognised by the public, we must recom- 
mend him, not in ; the spirit of a clique but in the spirit of 
disinterested lovers of poetry." 1 We must avoid the his- 
torical estimate, and the personal estimate, and we must 
seek the' real estimate. Stopford Brooke not long after 
Browning's death warned us against those " who deceive 
themselves into a 'belief that they enjoy poetry because 
they enjoy Browning, while they never open Milton and 
have only heard of Chaucer and Spenser." 2 

A third great teacher and interpreter of literature, Pro- 
fessor Dowden, has sounded the same note of warning and 
has pointed out the only method by which we can arrive 
at a real estimate. " Our prime object," says he, " should 
be to get into living relation with a man, with the good 
forces of nature and humanity that play in and through 
him. Approach a great writer in the spirit of cheerful 
and trustful fraternity ; this is better than hero-worship. 
A great master is better pleased to find a brother than a 
worshipper or a serf." In keeping close to the great 
writers from Homer to Tennyson, we keep close to life, 
and we thus become " members of the one Catholic Apos- 
tolic Church of literature, and it will matter little who 
may be the bishop of our particular diocese." 3 . 

I present no literary creed to which I demand assent, 
nor do I hold a brief as for a client. I shall try to reveal 
an attitude of mind which has been produced by reading 
and reflection, an attitude which may be modified or 
even supplanted by further reading and reflection. My 
position is neither that of a defendant nor that of a judge, 
but that of a guide. Now, the requisites for a good guide 
are : familiarity with the ground, and a willingness to 

1 ' Essays in Criticism,' ' Wordsworth.' 

1 Century Magazine, Dec. 1892, ' Impressions of Browning.' 

3 ' Transcripts and Studies,' ' The Interpretation of Literature.' 


keep himself in the background and allow us to do our 
own seeing. 

The disposition which we call optimism as it reveals 
itself in literature and life is difficult of exact definition, 
and yet " we must image the whole, then execute the 
parts." We need such a conception as will admit of the 
poetic and the philosophic essentials, that will not be 
so poetic as to be vague nor so philosophic as to be ab- 
struse, and we find such in the affirmation of the essential 
spiritual nature of the universe. This enthrones man upon 
the heights, for it regards liim in his threefold nature - 

What Does, what Knows, what Is; three souls, one man 

as the goal of Creative Energy and the special object of 
God's love. Pessimism is the denial of any such spiritual 
element in the universe and the consequent dethronement 
of man. "If indeed there were a Rational Author of 
Nature, and if in any degree, even the most insignificant, 
we shared His attributes, we might well conceive ourselves 
as of finer essence and more intrinsic worth than the 
material world which we inhabit, immeasurable though it 
may be. But if we be the creation of that world; if it 
made us what we are, and will again unmake us : how 
then ? " 1 Of course life can then have no more significance 
to us than to an earth-worm. We are 

Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark. 

" Once dethrone Humanity, regard it as a mere local 
incident in an endless and aimless series of cosmical 
changes, and you arrive at a doctrine, which, under what- 
ever specious name it may be veiled, is at bottom neither 
more nor less than Atheism." 2 

There is a class of writers claiming to be teachers who, 
while accepting what they call the demonstrations of the 
understanding as to man's origin and destiny, yet attempt 

1 A. J. Half our : ' Foundations of Belief.' 
1 John Fiske : ' Destiny of Man.' 


to save him from the inevitable abyss, from being 
" drown'd in the deeps of a meaningless Past." 

Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing, 

I cannot ease the burden of your fears, 
Or make quick-coming death a little thing, 

Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears. 1 

Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither, 
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose. 

Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them ? 
What love was ever as deep as the grave ? 

They are loveless now as the grass above them, 
Or the wave. 2 

We may delight in these pretty theories while life moves 
serenely, but when the storm and stress comes we then 
find we have need of such revelations as the world has 
tested. The future of the human race, according to the 
creed of these social reformers, is to be " a kind of affec- 
tionate picnic." What is all this but " a murmur of gnats 
in the gloom, or a moment's anger of bees in their hive ? " 
It is when we turn from such " idle singers of an empty 
day " to the great poets, that we are thrilled with the wild 
joys of living. 

With the optimism of Wordsworth and Browning, we 
are all more or less familiar, but are we equally familiar 
with the causes and the nature of this personal note in 
each, by which one became the bearer of " plenteous health, 
exceeding store of joy, and an impassioned quietude ; " 
and the other became " the Subtlest Assertor of the Soul 
in Song"? 

In any attempt to assign causes for the optimism of a 
great teacher the influences of hereditary predisposition 
and of environment must be given a place, but a place 
subordinate to that third somewhat, which we can 
neither analyse nor define, but which we know as the 
essential self, the individuality. 

1 William Morris. J A. C. Swinburne. 


In the case of Wordsworth, heredity and early environ- 
ment were no doubt of deep significance, and I fear that 
too often they have been used as a sufficient cause of his 
optimism. I wish to show that they were efficient, but not 
sufficient; that in Wordsworth's work we have not only 
the profoundest thought, but well-ordered thought, in 
union with poetic sensibility unique and unmatchable ; 
that in the union of " natural magic and moral profundity " 
the great body of his work is making for " rest and peace, 
and shade for spirits fevered with the sun" in a time 
when " there is no shelter to grow ripe, no leisure to grow 
wise." Emerson gave a just estimate of the value of 
heredity and environment in the problem which Words- 
worth was to work out, when he said : " It is very easy to 
see that to act so powerfully in this practical age as this 
solitariest and wisest of poets did he needed, with all his 
Oriental abstraction, the indomitable vigour rooted in ani- 
mal constitution for which his countrymen are marked." 

I shall seek for my materials in that storehouse of youth- 
ful power and passion, the ' Prelude ' : that story of the 
" Love of Nature leading to the love of Man," where are 
revealed the sources of Wordsworth's power as man and as 

His school days were spent in the rural valley of Hawks- 
head, at the Edward VI. School. There he lived the 
simple life of the dalesmen, until he was prepared for the 
work of the university. He was a lover of the woods, 
the hills and the lakes, and these localities are rich in 
associations with his boyish sports, of harrying the raven's 
nest, of "setting springes for woodcock that run along 
the smooth green turf," and of boating on Esthwaite and 
Windermere. The first period, or seed-time of his soul, 
may be called the period of unconscious relation to Nature, 
and it is of importance to bear in mind the fact, that in it 
he was living the free, simple, spontaneous life of a boy 
among boys, with nothing to distinguish him from his 


mates. He was thus saved from becoming either a prig or 

a prodigy. 

Yes, I remember when the changeful earth 
And twice five summers on my mind had stamped 
The faces of the moving year, even then 
I held unconscious intercourse with beauty 
Old as creation, drinking in a pure 
Organic pleasure from the silver wreaths 
Of curling mist, or from the level plain 
Of waters coloured by impending clouds. 

But in due time came the period of conscious love of Nature, 
which is a step of profound significance ; here is the begin- 
ning of the " philosophic mind : " 

Those incidental charms which first attached 
My heart to rural objects, day by day 
Grew weaker, and I hasten on to tell 
How Nature, intervenient till this time 
And secondary, now at length was sought 
For her own sake. 

It was in this period that the basis of his optimism was 
laid ; then it was that the essential spiritual nature of the 
universe was revealed to him. It is this note that charac- 
terises all of his poems on Nature. It is his master vision 
God in nature. He mow sees into the life of things 

By observation of affinities 

In objects where no brotherhood exists 

To passive minds. 

I was only then 

Contented, when with bliss ineffable 
I felt the sentiment of Being spread 
O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still ; 
O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought 
And human knowledge, to the human eye 
Invisible, yet liveth to the heart 
O'er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings, 
Or beats the gladsome air ; o'er all that glides 
Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself, 
And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not 
If high the transport, great the joy I felt, 


Communing in this sort through earth and heaven 
With every form of creature, as it looked 
Towards the Uncreated with a countenance 
Of adoration, with an eye of love. 

To every Form of being is assigned 
An active principle : howe'er removed 
From sense and observation, it subsists 
In all things, in all natures ; in the stars 
Of azure heaven, the unenduring clouds, 
In flower and tree, in every pebbly stone 
That paves the brooks, the stationary rocks, 
The moving waters, and the invisible air. 
Whate'er exists hath properties that spread 
Beyond itself, communicating good, 
A simple blessing, or with evil mixed ; 
Spirit that knows no insulated spot, 
No chasm, no solitude ; from link to link 
It circulates, the Soul of all the worlds. 

This was a note absolutely new in English poetry. It 
is the note which is sounded in every poem written be- 
fore he rises into the sphere of the humanities and becomes 
the poet of man. I could illustrate it from thousands of 
his verses. It rises to its highest point of exultation in the 
' Tintern Abbey ' : 

And I have felt 

A presence that disturbs me with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts ; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 
And the round ocean, and the living air 
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man ; 
A motion and a spirit, that impels 
All thinking things, all objects of all thought 
And rolls through all things. 

The significance of this revelation as poetry has had its 
due recognition, but in the closing years of the century we 
are getting its significance as philosophy. 

Those who have followed the movements of modern 
thought have not failed to notice that the theist no longer 
gives much time to defending the outposts, when the central 


citadel is attacked ; this central citadel is the spiritual 
content of nature itself. Such works as Martineau's 
1 Seat of Authority in Religion,' Fiske's ' Destiny of Man ' 
and 'Idea of God,' Marshall's 'Lectures on Evolution,' 
Knight's 'Aspects of Theism,' Caird's 'Philosophy of 
Religion,' Myers's 'Science and a Future Life,' and Bal- 
four's 'Foundations of Belief make this very evident. 
" The decisive battles of Theology are fought beyond its 
frontiers. It is not over purely religious controversies that 
the cause of Religion is lost or won. The judgments we 
shall form upon its special problems are commonly settled 
for us by our general mode of looking at the Universe." l 
Mr. John Fiske, in his address upon the ' Everlasting Signi- 
ficance of the Idea of Religion,' gave especial prominence 
to this same idea, as in the preface to his ' Idea of God ' he 
had said : " It is enough to remind the reader that Deity 
is unknowable, just in so far as it is not manifested to 
consciousness through the phenomenal world, knowable, 
just in so far as it is thus manifested ; unknowable (in its 
entirety) in so far as it is infinite and absolute, knowable 
in a symbolic way as the Power which is disclosed in every 
throb of the mighty rhythmic life of the Universe." Again, 
in Chapter I. : " As in the roaring loom of Time the end- 
less web of events is woven, each strand shall make more 
and more clearly visible the living garment of God." Both 
Wordsworth and Fiske have had the vague and uninstruc- 
tive epithet of " Pantheist " hurled at them by those who 
feared the results of sustained and accurate thinking. 
"Christianity assumes an unseen world, and then urges 
that the life of Christ is the fittest way in which such a 
world could come into contact with the world we know. 
The essential spirituality of the universe, in short, is the 
basis of religion, and it is precisely this basis which is now 
assailed. ... It is on the ground of the cosmic law of 
interpenetrating worlds that I would claim for Wordsworth 

1 A. J. Balfour : ' Foundations of Belief.' 


a commanding place among the teachers of this century." l 
" The special question, however, which we have to answer, 
is this : Is there, or is there not, a spiritual principle at the 
heart of things ? Wordsworth saw, as very few have ever 
seen, that an incessant apocalypse is going on in Nature, 
which many of us altogether miss, and to which we all, at 
times, are blind ; and that in the apprehension of this, 
which is a real disclosure of the Infinite to the finite, as con- 
stant as the sunrise, or as the ebbing and the flowing of the 
tide we find the basis of Theism laid for us." 2 Can there 
be any doubt as to the cause of Wordsworth's optimism or 
as to the significance of it in modern thought ? Is it any 
wonder that he could sing of man, of Nature, and of human 
life with hardly a note of despondency, and never one of 
despair ? 

Wisdom and Spirit of the universe ! 
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought, 
That givest to forms and images a breath 
And everlasting motion, not in vain 
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn 
Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me 
The passions that build up our human soul ; 
Not with the mean and vulgar works of man, 
But with high objects, with enduring things 
With life and nature purifying thus 
The elements of feeling and of thought, 
And sanctifying, hy such discipline, 
Both pain and fear, until we recognise 
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart. 

The final step in his ascent is that by which he rises 
from the love of Nature to the love of man. It was a 
critical moment for him when he was transferred from the 
calm delights and simple manners of Hawkshead to that 
world within a world a great university. " Migration 
strange for a stripling of the hills." Cambridge could 
present nothing in kind to take the place of those sights 
and sounds sublime with which he had been conversant, 

1 F. W. Myers: 'Science and a Future Life.' 
Wm. Kuight: 'Aspects of Theism.' 


but she offered him those treasures which had been created 
for her by the hand of man. 

Oft when the dazzling show no longer new 

Had ceased to dazzle, ofttimes did I quit 

My comrades, leave the crowd, buildings and groves, 

And as I paced alone the level fields 

Far from those lovely sights and sounds sublime 

With which I had been conversant, the mind 

Drooped not ; but there into herself returning, 

With prompt rebound seemed fresh as heretofore. 

At least I more distinctly recognised 

Her native instincts : let me dare to speak 

A higher language, say that now I felt 

What independent solaces were mine, 

To mitigate the injurious sway of place 

Or circumstance, how far soever changed 

In youth, or to be changed in after years. 

Here we have a still higher note of optimism, and again we 
must study origins. His mind drooped not because he had 
as an everlasting possession the harvest of that first period 
of unconscious intercourse with Nature, the riches which 
came to him in that period of health and happiness were 
the riches of 

Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health 
Truth, breathed by cheerfulness. 

I am inclined to think that this is the most immediately 
helpful of all the poet's revelations. It is the fundamental 
note in the ' Character of the Happy Warrior.' 

Who is the happy Warrior ? Who is he 
That every man in arms should wish to be ? 
It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought 
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought 
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought : 
Whose high endeavours are an inward light 
That makes the path before him always bright : 
Who, with a natural instinct to discern 
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn ; 
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there, 
But makes his moral being his prime care ; 

'T is, finally, the Man, who, lifted high, 
Conspicuous object iu a Nation's eye, 


Or left unthought-of in obscurity, 
Who, with a toward or untoward lot, 
Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not 
Plays, in the mauy games of life, that one 
Where what he most doth value must be won : 
Whom neither shape of danger can dismay, 
Nor thought of tender happiness betray ; 
Who, not content that former worth stand fast, 
Looks forward, persevering to the last, 
From well to better, daily self-surpast : 
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth 
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth, 
Or he must fall to sleep without his fame, 
And leave a dead unprofitable name 
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause ; 
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws 
His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause : 
This is the happy Warrior ; this is He 
That every Man in arms should wish to be. 

It is this power to transmute sorrow, disappointment, and 
defeat into means of strength that makes his poetry such a 
tonic to the weary and heavy laden. When we rise to the 
heights, and can say in the face of disappointment, 

We will grieve not, rather find 
Strength in what remains behind, 

we have gained the secret of Wordsworth's optimism, and 
then " deep distress will humanise our souls," or as Tenny- 
son expresses it in ' In Memoriam,' " will make us kindlier 
with our kind." 

Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone, 
Housed in a dream, at distance from the Kind ! 
Such happiness, wherever it be known, 
Is to be pitied ; for 't is surely blind. 

But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer, 
And frequent sights of what is to be borne ! 
Such sights, or worse, as are before me here. 
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn. 

I cannot leave this feature of Wordsworth's optimism 
without alluding to the effect it has had upon two different 


types of men. It will show what a sure retreat great souls 
offer in times of bewilderment. John Stuart Mill, in that 
crisis of life when he had lost all substantive joy, in pro- 
found despondency went to the poetry of Wordsworth. 
He says : " What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine 
for my state of mind was that from them I learned what 
were the perennial sources of happiness, and I felt myself 
at once better and happier as I came under their influence." 
Mr. Leslie Stephen says : " Other poetry becomes trifling 
when we are making our inevitable passages through the 
Valley of the Shadow of Death. Wordsworth's alone 
retains its power. We love the more as we grow older, 
and become more deeply impressed with the sadness and 
seriousness of life." Lowell, who was by no means unduly 
sympathetic in his criticism of Wordsworth, everywhere 
pays tribute to his splendid optimism, and says : " He reads 
the poems of Wordsworth without understanding, who does 
not find in them the noblest incentives to faith in man and 
the grandeur of his destiny." I shall never forget the 
emphasis with which the late Bishop Brooks, on receiving 
a copy of the ' Prelude,' affirmed to me his admiration for 
Wordsworth's magnificent optimism, " an optimism," 
said he, " which is as sound and wholesome as the air of 
the forest." 

I shall close my review of the optimism of Wordsworth 
with the testimony of Professor Caird, Master of Balliol 
College, Oxford. 

" In the ' Prelude ' Wordsworth seeks to exhibit to us, 
not so much of his own personal career, as the way in 
which, amid the difficulties of the time, a human soul 
might find peace and freedom. He rejects any claim to 
exceptional privileges, and takes his stand upon the rights 
|of simple humanity. Out of this sense of the spiritual 
greatness, the ' Godhead ' of human nature, springs what 
we might call, in philosophical terms, the optimism of 
Wordsworth, his assertion that good is stronger than 


evil, and even that the latter is but the means of the 
development of the former. Wordsworth's optimism has 
no fear of sorrow or of evil. He can stand in the shadow 
of death and pain, ruin and failure, with sympathy that is 
almost painful in its quiet intensity ; the faith in the 
omnipotence ' of love and man's unconquerable mind ' is 
never destroyed or weakened in him. The contemplation 
of evil and pain always ends with him, by an inevitable 
recoil, in an inspired expression of his faith in the good 
which transmutes and transfigures it, as the clouds are 
changed into manifestations of the sunlight they strive to 
hide." ! 

In passing from the optimism of Wordsworth to that of 
Browning we cannot do better than maintain the dis- 
position shown by the older to the younger poet that 
evening at the rooms of Talf ourd, when in the presence 
of Macready, Landor, Miss Mitford, and others, the 
host proposed " The Poets of England," and with a kindly 
grace having alluded to the company of great men honour- 
ing him with their presence, presented " Mr. Robert 
Browning, the author of ' Paracelsus.' ' : Miss Mitford, 
in speaking of the pride which Browning must have felt 
at that moment, says : " He was prouder still when Words- 
worth leaned across the table and with stately affability 
said, ' I am proud to drink your health, Mr. Browning.' " 
All Wordsworthians, all disinterested lovers of poetry, are 
proud to drink the health of Robert Browning. 

We have seen that Wordsworth's optimism did not 
result from any victory of the intellect over the perplexi- 
ties of a scientific age. The era of modern science had 
not begun when this poet did his great work, but yet he 
foresaw what was sure to come with such an age. He 
foresaw that men would "pore," and was disturbed with 
the thought that they might "dwindle as they pored," 
and yet he had no fears that the most extensive researches 

1 E. Caird : 'Literature and Philosophy.' 


of science would cut the nerve of poetry. He saw the 
dangers of the new age, and yet he could say : 

I exult, 

Casting reserve away, exult to see 
An intellectual mastery exercised 
O'er the bliud elements. 

"The knowledge, both of the Poet and the Man of 
science," he says, " is pleasure ; but the knowledge of the 
one cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence, our 
natural and inalienable inheritance ; the other is a personal 
and individual acquisition. The Man of science cherishes 
and loves truth in solitude ; the poet singing a song in 
which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the 
presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly com- 
panion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowl- 
edge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the 
countenance of all Science. ... If the time should ever 
come when what is now called Science, shall be ready to 
put on, as it were, the form of flesh and blood, the Poet 
will lend his divine spirit to aid the transfiguration, and will 
welcome the Being thus produced as a dear and genuine 
inmate of the household of man." J 

The student of Tennyson and Browning in tl\e closing 
years of bur century is witnessing the fulfilment of this 
prophecy of the last year of the previous century. Tennyson 
in accepting what was once thought to be a step toward 
atheism, i. e. Evolution, says : 

If my body come from brutes tho' somewhat finer than their own, 
I am heir, and this my kingdom. Shall the royal voice be mute ? 

No, but if the rebel subje: t seek to drag me from the throne, 

Hold the sceptre, Human Soul, and rule thy Province of the brute. 

I have climbed to the snows of Age and I gaze at a field in the Past, 
Where I sank with the body, at times, in the sloughs of a low desire, 

But I hear no yelp of the beast, and the Man is quiet at last 

As he stands on the heights of his life with a glimpse of a height that is 

1 ' Prefaces and Essays on Poetry,' A. J. George, ed. 



Who loves not Knowledge ? Who shall rail 
Against her beauty "? May she mix 
With men and prosper ! Who shall fix, 

Her pillars ? Let her work prevail. 

What is she, cut from love and faith, 
But some wild Pallas from the brain 

Of Demons. . . . 

. . . Let her know her place ; 
She is the second, not the first. 

Browning with his first plunge into the depths said in 
' Paracelsus ' 

Know, not for Knowing's sake, 
But to become a star to men for ever ; 
Know, for the gain it gets, the praise it brings, 
The wonder it inspires, the love it breeds : 
Look one step onward, and secure that step ! 


Rather consists in opening out a way 
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape, 
Than in effecting entry for a light 
Supposed to be without. 

Thus we see that neither of these great poets feared to 
follow wherever science might lead. 

In ' Paracelsus ' we have united the two great princi- 
ples which lie at the basis of all Browning's work: one, 
which has for its end, knowledge ; the other, which has 
for its end, conduct. The first is Browning's philoso- 
phy ; the second, Browning's art. These correspond very 
well to the two great classes of literature as given by 
Matthew Arnold : Scientific, ministering to our instinct 
for knowledge ; Poetic, ministering to our instinct for 
conduct and beauty. Along these lines all life must 
move, and the poet who attempts to lead here needs all 
the courage of the most resolute : 

Must keep ever at his side 
The tonic of a wholesome pride. 


For, ah ! so much he has to do : 
Be painter and musician too ! 
The aspect of the moment show, 
The feeling of the moment know ! 
But, ah, then comes his sorest spell 
Of toil, he must life's movement tell! 
The thread which binds it all iu one 
And not its separate parts alone. 
The movement he must tell of life, 
Its pain and pleasure, rest and strife ; 
His eye must travel down at full 
The long unpausing spectacle ; 
With faithful nnrelaxiug force 
Attend it from its primal source, 
Attend it to the last repose, 
And solemn silence of its close. 

Browning, more than any poet of modern times, has 
that intellectual fearlessness which is thoroughly Greek; 
he looks unflinchingly upon all that meets him, and he 
apparently cares not for consequences. This impetuosity 
of mental action, as I have already pointed out, resulted 
in that duality which he seemed so careless about uni- 
fying, philosophy and ethics. It is admitted by all that 
Browning appeals to the head for the solution of the 
problem of evil, and that when he does this he works, not 
as an artist and poet, dealing with life as a whole, but as 
a philosopher interested in certain problems suggested by 
the mind itself. His solution of the problem of evil can 
be stated in a few words. Starting with the great principle 
of evolution, that man is ever becoming, " made to grow 
not stop," - 

A thing nor God nor beast, 
Made to know that he can know and not more : 
Lower than God who knows all and can all, 
Higher than beasts which know and can so far 
As each beast's limit, 

Browning is bound to follow life through all its stages of 
pain and pleasure, victory and defeat, faith and doubt, and 
face the stern realities. How is he able to do this and not 


become a pessimist ? He sees clearly all the struggle and 
misery ; he selects a Guido on the one hand, and a Saul 
on the other ; here a student " dead from the waist down," 
there a faithful teacher left to die in the desert, in order 
that he may be certain that he has seen life as it actually 
is. Nothing can save him from despair but the idea that 
man is working out a moral ideal, in which God is omni- 
present, and that the manifestation of God's presence in 
man is love : 

Be warned by me, 

Never yon cheat yourself one instant ! Love, 
Give love, ask only love, and leave the rest ! 

Now this love is made perfect through suffering. " Man 
is a god though in the germ." This is perception, not 
demonstration, and Browning has sought refuge in poetry, 
not philosophy ; but he will do better next time ? Let us 
see what he does when asked to demonstrate the truth of 
this faith in the unity of God and man : 

Take the joys and bear the sorrows neither with extreme concern ! 
Living here means nescience simply, 't is next life that helps to learn. 


Knowledge means 
Ever-renewed assurance by defeat, 
That victory is somehow still to reach. 

There is no demonstration here surely : 

To each mortal peradventure earth becomes a new machine, 
Pain and pleasure no more tally in our sense than red and green. 

Each man has his own criterion to question is absurd. 
Can it be that Browning is teaching a fatal agnosticism ? 

Wholly distrust thy knowledge, then, and trust 
As wholly love allied to ignorance ! 
There lies thy truth and safety. 

What shall we say to attaining even a moral life by such a 
sacrifice ? Shall we cast doubt upon the head in order to 
secure the heart ? This seems, at least, to be an entire 


abandonment of the principle from which modern philoso- 
phy had its origin, Cogito ergo sum. It is philosophical 
suicide to say that man possesses 

Of knowledge just so much as shows that still 
It ends in ignorance on every side. 

He says if knowledge were not relative, knowledge could 
not be, and moral activity would have no sphere 

Make evident that pain 
Permissibly masks pleasure you abstain 
From outstretch of the finger-tip that saves 
A drowning fly. 

This is the argument of the 'Epistle of Karshish,' 
and what is the result? It is a flat denial of the basal 
idea of modern philosophy, that " all true thought is divine 
thought, thought, that is, which is not arbitrary and 
accidental, but in which the individual mind surrenders 
its narrow individualism, and enters into the region of 
universal and absolute truth. If, therefore, rational 
knowledge is, in one point of view, man's knowledge of 
God, it is in another God's knowledge of himself." All 
of this Browning clearly and explicitly denies ; with him 
God is the Unknowable, and yet he worships. Here the 
self-contradiction lies for " worship of the Unknow- 
able is an impossible attitude of mind." The doctrine of 
relativity of human knowledge is that which, beginning 
with Kant, continued by Sir William Hamilton and Man- 
sel, has had its chief defender in Herbert Spencer. Is 
Browning the thinker tending in the same direction? 
Those who are no enemies of the great poet, but who 
know his mental attitude, do not hesitate to say, " Yes, we 
must confess it, Browning the philosopher fails us here ; 
there is no optimism here ; we must turn to Browning the 

We need not be disturbed in the least at the results 
reached in our study of Browning the philosopher; we 


should be willing to look facts in the face. We all know 
that the best criticism of Browning (the most thorough 
and sympathetic) has insisted upon Browning the poet as 
the Browning who is to live. Modern philosophy takes no 
notice of Browning except to show that his philosophy 
if philosophy it can be called leads to agnosticism. I know 
there are those who claim that Browning's final utterances 
are to be found in the argumentative poems because they 
were, for the most part, his latest utterances. Even were 
these believed by the poet himself to be of the highest 
worth, he could not persuade us to that conclusion. Stop- 
ford Brooke says : " The very highest scientific intellect is 
a joke in comparison with the intellectual power of Homer, 
Dante and Shakespeare," and so we say that the scientific 
Browning is a joke in comparison with the poetic Brown- 
ing. Again says Mr. Brooke : " I hold fast to one thing 
that the best work of our poet, that by which he will 
always live, is not in his intellectual analysis, or in his 
preaching, or in his difficult thinkings, but in the simple, 
sensuous, and impassioned things he wrote out of the 
overflowing of his heart." 1 

Mr. William Sharp says : " It is as the poet he will live ; 
not merely as the ' novel thinker ' in verse ; logically, his 
attitude as thinker is unimpressive." 2 "A Philosophy of 
life," says Professor Jones, " which is based on agnosticism 
is an explicit self-contradiction, which can help no one. 
We must appeal from Browning the philosopher to Brown- 
ing the poet." 3 " It was not much of a philosophy," says 
Mr. Saintsbury. "this which the poet half echoed from 
and half taught to the second half of the nineteenth cen- 
tury. But the poet is 'always saved by his poetry, and this 
is the case with Browning." 4 I could continue this list 
indefinitely. These men are not hostile to Browning ; they 

1 ' Impresssons of Browning.' 

2 ' Browning,' Great Writers' Series. 

3 ' Browning as a Philosophical and Religious Teacher.' 

4 ' Corrected Impressions.' 


are his most sympathetic interpreters : but they appeal from 
the Aristotelianism of Browning to his Platonism, and 
here too much cannot be said ; here his optimism is no 
trailing cloud, but a bright consummate star, shining clear 
and steady in the heavens from which so many have paled 
their ineffectual fire. 

Browning the poet quietly ignores the logical conse- 
quences of the theories held by Browning the philosopher, 
and gives us, not what is contrary to philosophy in general, 
but what is contrary only to his own poor argument ; he 
gives us the very thing which poetiy is bound to give 
" such a living faith in God's relation to man as leaves no 
place for that helpless resentment against the appointed 
order so apt to rise within us at the sight of undeserved 
pain. This faith is manifested in the highest form in 
Christian Theism." l Browning's optimism as poet and' 
man is the result of Browning's Christian Theism. 

But before passing on let me forestall any thought on 
your part that I believe optimism must always be born out 
of our poetic our intuitional nature. It by no means 
follows that because Browning's philosophy fails philo- 
sophic thought fails, that the rationalising activity of 
our age must be feared. While immediate and spontane- 
ous experience is clothed with more interest, more vivacity, 
more fulness and glow of life, we must never consider the 
inevitable processes of reflection vain or valueless. Our 
trust in the heart need not weaken our belief in the head. 
" The human spirit is not a thing divided against itself, so 
that faith and reason can subsist side by side in the same 
mind, each asserting as absolute, principles which are con- 
tradicted by the other." We are not shut up to the alter- 
native of giving either a bad reason, or no reason at all 
for our highest convictions. If it is not possible to explain 
them rationally without explaining them away, the out- 
come is universal scepticism. There is a profounder logic 

1 A. J. Balfour : ' Foundations of Belief.' 


than the syllogism, " the logic which enters into the 
genesis and traces the secret rhythm and evolution of 
thought, which grasps the constituent elements in that 
living process of which all truth consists." l 

I have alluded to the fact that Browning as a poet dared 
to do what Wordsworth predicted the poet of the age of 
science could do. He has dared to follow side by side 
with the scientist, and use the material of the scientist for 
the ends of poetry. This work is distinctly different from 
that which Browning the philosopher does. This is no- 
where more clearly revealed to us than in that very sug- 
gestive little book by Dr. Berdoe, ' Browning's Message 
to his Time.' Dr. Berdoe nowhere claims for Browning a 
place among the great philosophers ; but he rightly claims 
for him a place among the prophets. Browning as a 
prophet moves in a sphere for ever undisturbed by the 
revelations of the scientist, simply because it is the sphere 
of poetry, the sphere of man's loves, man's hopes, man's 
aspirations. As Wordsworth did more for mankind by 
his ' Ode to Duty ' and his ' Ode on Intimations of Immor- 
tality ' than by his ' Ecclesiastical Sonnets,' as Tennyson 
sounded a higher note in his ' In Memoriam ' than in his 
' Two Voices ' and the ' Supposed Confessions of a Second- 
rate Sensitive Mind,' so Browning contributed more to the 
spiritual movement of the age by his ' Saul,' ' Apparent 
Failure,' * Prospice,' ' Abt Vogler,' etc., than by all his 
argumentative verse. These are indeed veritable fountain- 
heads of spiritual power. " High art," says Mr. Myers, 
" is based upon unprovable intuitions, and of all the arts 
it is poetry whose intuitions take the brightest glow, and 
best illumine the mystery without us from the mystery 
within." 2 This I should say was the secret of Browning's 
work as an optimist, he illumines the mystery without 
by the mystery within : 

1 J. Caird : ' Philosophy of Religion.' 
- ' Science and A Future Life.' 


Strong is the soul, and wise and beautiful ; 
The seeds of God-like power are in us still ; 
Gods are we, bards, saints, heroes, if we will ! 
Dumb judges, answer, truth or mockery ? 

This is the note sounding everywhere in Browning's 
poetry. It is an appeal to the God-consciousness in every 
man " what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite 

He is far in advance of our institutional Christianity, 
and he leads the column of our Christian socialism : 

Would you have your songs endure ? 
Build on the human heart. 

What think you would be the result if our churches 
caught even a faint glimpse of this great truth and lived 
it for one short day? 

And God is seen God 
In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul, and the clod. 

When we see the mad scramble for wealth and position 
by those who have never for one moment stopped to ask 
themselves what is the great gulf between the actual and 
the real, are we not tempted to say with our poet 

Fool, all that is, at all, 
Lasts ever, past recall; 
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure ? 

If we go to tho sorrowing multitude about us in an 
attempt to console and lift them, are not our words " va- 
cant chaff, well meant for grain," unless we can charge 
them with the magnificent hope of, " On the earth the 
broken arcs ; in the heaven a perfect round " ? If this is 
a delusion, then " 't were better not to be." Is there any 
finer scorn of the world and the ways of it than in 

Not on the vulgar mass 

Called " work," must sentence pass, 
Things done, that took the eye and had the price ; 

O'er which, from level stand, 

The low world laid its hand, 
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice : 


But all, the world's coarse thumb 
And finger failed to plumb, 

All I could never be, 
All, men ignored in me, 
This, I was worth to God. 

It is no easy-going moral creed that we find in 

Progress is the law of life, man is not Man as yet. 

A principle of restlessness 

Which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all. 

Oh if we draw a circle premature, heedless of far gain, 
Greedy for quick returns of profit, 
Surely, bad is our bargain. 

Browning enunciates the same law for the soul that 
socialists do for man's physical life, that there shall be 
no monopoly of the means by which it may be developed. 
He is a socialist of the purest type, when he asserts that 
if we put impediments in the way of the free development 
of one of God's creatures we incur the anathema pro- 
nounced on those who offend one " of these little ones," 
" For the All-great were the all-loving too." 

We see, therefore, that the optimism of Browning is the 
optimism of Christianity in its simplicity and directness : 

Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature ? 

In both of such lower types are we ; 
Precisely because of our wider nature ; 

For time, theirs ; ours, for eternity. 

To-day's brief passion limits their range ; 

It seethes with the morrow for us and more. 
They are perfect how else ? they shall never change : 

We are faulty why not ? we have time in store. 

The joyous fearless activity of Browning ; the noble 
aspirations of his intellect and the mighty passions of his 
heart ; the steady certainty that God and man are one in 
kind, naturally suggest to my mind an utterance of the 


great poet-preacher of our time : " One is ready," he says, 
" to have tolerance, respect, and hope for any man, who, 
reaching after God, is awed by God's immensity and his 
own littleness, and falls back crushed and doubtful. His 
is a doubt which is born in the secret chambers of his own 
personal conscientiousness. It is independent of his circum- 
stances and surroundings. The soul that has truly come 
to a personal doubt finds it hard to conceive of any ages of 
most implicit faith in which it could have lived, in which 
that doubt would not have been in it. All that one un- 
derstands, and the more one understands it, the more unin- 
telligible does it seem to him, that any earnest soul can 
really lay its doubt upon the age, the set, or the society it 
lives in. No : our age, our society is what we have been 
calling it. It is the furnace. Its fire can set and fix and 
fasten what the man puts into it. But, properly speaking, 
it can create no character. It can make no truly faithful 
soul a doubter. It never did. It never can." 

Now in closing let us unite the optimism of these two 
prophets with a golden link forged by that third great seer 
in our century : 

We desire no isles of the West, no quiet seats of the just, 
To rest in a golden prove, or to bask in a summer sky : 
Give us the wages of going on, and not to die. 

I can see no better ground for optimism than that of 
these poets 

While blossoms and the budding spray 
Inspire us in our own decay ; 
Still, as we nearer draw to life's dark goal, 
Be hopeful Spring the favourite of the Soul. 

My own hope is, a sun will pierce 
The thickest cloud earth ever stretched ; 
That after Last, returns the First, 
Though a wide compass round be fetched, 
That what began best, can't end worst, 
Nor what God blessed once, prove accursed. 


These surpassing spirits in their serene faith in God and 
immortality, in their yearning for expansion of the subtle 
thing called Spirit, 

Never turn their backs, but march breast forward, 

Never doubt clouds will break, 

Never dream, though right be worsted, wrong will triumph, 
Hold we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, 

Sleep to wake. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, April 28, 1895.] 

BROWNING is sometimes not easy reading, but I think 
that his obscurity has been greatly exaggerated. I see no 
reason why the greater part of his poems should be con- 
sidered more difficult than the plays and sonnets of Shake- 
speare. By common consent the palm for obscurity has 
been given, and rightly, to ' Sordello.' It would be inter- 
esting to discuss at more length than there is here space 
for the sources of the difficulties that the student of 
Browning meets in general, and in this poem in particular. 
In ' Pacchiarotto ' the poet implies that his obscurity arises 
from the greatness of his thoughts. He there says to his 

But had you to put in one small line 

Some thought big and bouncing as noddle 

Of goose, born to cackle and waddle 

And bite at man's heel as goose-wont is, 

Never felt plague its puny os frontis 

You 'd know, as you hissed, spat and spluttered 

Clear cackle is easily uttered ! 

I doubt, however, if the thought of Browning is often so 
large that it cannot be clearly expressed. So far as the 
poem before us is concerned, it must be confessed that its 
obscurity consists, in part at least, in what in any other 
author would be considered bad writing. The sentences, 
as is not uncommon in Browning, are often greatly in- 
volved. The construction is sometimes so forced as to put 
a slight strain even on the rules of grammar. We have, 

' SOKDELLO.' 335 

for instance, relatives looking wildly for their antecedents, 
who are too much occupied to pay them any attention. 
Besides this form of obscurity that results from lack of 
command of the material, there is another which is more 
peculiar to Browning, and springs indeed from the quality 
of his genius. He sees relations more far-reaching than 
are commonly discerned. These look so clear to him that 
it does not occur to him that they will not be equally ob- 
vious to the reader. Thus he has sudden turns of expres- 
sion which are not always easy to follow. While speaking 
of one thing, he will suddenly pass to another, and the 
reader may fail to see the connection. The reader is a 
little like a caterpillar who should start out for a walk 
with an amiable grasshopper. They begin very fairly 
together ; but suddenly he sees his friend swinging on a 
spear of grass feet away, and how he got there and how he 
is to be followed are difficult questions. To take a strik- 
ing example, near the beginning of the poem Browning 
seems to himself to be surrounded not only by a human, 
but also by a ghostly audience. . One of these spirits he 
warns away in an eloquent apostrophe, feeling that his own 
verses would sound harsh beside the song of the poet 
whose spiritual presence he thus deprecates. There is 
nothing in the poem to show who is meant. In a later 
edition Browning added a running commentary at the top 
of the page, so that we now know that he referred to 
Shelley. At the end of the third book there is an apos- 
trophe to a poet whom those thoroughly familiar with his 
writings would recognise as Landor. Most readers have 
to learn this, if they learn it at all, from the commentators. 
These are only examples of the kind of allusion with which 
these pages bristle. Sometimes they are to obscure his- 
torical events or personages. Sometimes they are to pass- 
ing fancies. In this latter case, close attention and a little 
play of imagination on the reader's part will often help 
him over the difficulty. Where the trouble springs from 


ignorance there is no help but in the commentaries, and 
not always in them. 

A part of the difficulty which some experience in read- 
ing Browning springs from the fact that they try to under- 
stand more than is absolutely necessary, and are troubled 
because they cannot do this. Browning makes an allusion, 
for instance, the appositeness of which is obvious. One 
does well often to let this stand as it is, and not try to 
piece out the whole story. Take, for instance, the allu- 
sion at the opening of ' Sordello ' to " Pentapolin named 
o' the Naked Arm," and the " friendless people's friend." 
It was long before I understood, not being fresh from my 
' Don Quixote,' who these personages might be, and I did 
not care very much to inform myself of their story. It is 
a magnificent picture at which the poet hints. It makes 
us feel the magic of his power as he singles out 

Sordello compassed murkily abont 

With ravage of six long, sad, hundred years, 

and I felt that all the dictionaries and histories in the city 
library could hardly add to the effect. Why, then, should 
I lose the enjoyment of this picture because, forsooth, I 
did not know who ' f Pentapolin named o' the Naked Arm " 
was. Recently a friend kindly enlightened my ignorance ; 
but I confess that I do not find my enjoyment of the poem 
increased by the information. In reading Browning one 
has, thus, often to exercise a self-restraint to keep one's 
place simply at the point of proper focus, and enjoy the 
picture which the poet places before us, asking no 

I will venture to say further that a little obscurity is not 
necessarily a fault in a poem. In the first place, it fixes 
the attention. When we read with perfect ease we may 
pass over the ground so rapidly that some of the beauties 
that we meet do not impress themselves upon us as they 
should. We may even wholly overlook them. I am in- 

' SOKDELLO.' 337 

clined to think that many readers fail to recognise the 
profundity of certain passages in Tennyson because they 
float so easily and so rapidly over the clear depths. 

Further, a certain amount of obscurity may add real 
force to the style. One of the heresies of Herbert Spencer 
is his insistence that strength in style is measured by ease 
of apprehension. This is much like saying that the hose 
of a fire-engine throws water with a force that is measured 
by the ease of its outlet ; so that the most open-mouthed 
hose would throw water the farthest. In a perfectly lucid 
style we reach the author's thought easily and gradually. 
It is built up before us by slow degrees. If the style has 
some little obscurity, we hesitate in regard to the signifi- 
cance of a sentence. The expressions have at first little 
meaning to us ; the mind is under a strain of suspense. 
At last we reach the key-word, and the whole meaning 
flashes upon us at once. We have a certain shock of sur- 
prise and pleasure. 

Of course this is true only within certain limits and of 
certain kinds of obscurity. The writer must have genius 
enough to stimulate this strain of suspense and to repay it. 
There are certain relations of things that cannot be taken 
in at a glance. Certain involutions of expression may 
best bring these to consciousness. The motif of a move- 
ment in a symphony of Beethoven can be expressed simply 
enough ; but who finds fault with the great composer be- 
cause he sees fit to present it in ways that put a strain on 
the attention even of the expert ? 

It seemed proper to introduce an examination of ' Sor- 
dello ' by a few words in regard to Browning's obscurity, 
for this obscurity is all that the title suggests to many 
minds. It must be admitted that in this poem obscurity is 
sometimes carried beyond the lines within which it gives 
strength. The poet himself was somewhat troubled by 
the difficulty that so many found in reading it. He began 
to rework it, but decided to leave it for the most part as it 



was. He did add a sort of running explanation at the top 
of the pages. This, as I have already stated, makes clear 
to us in one place that Shelley is referred to, but, so far as 
I have noticed, it throws in general little light on difficult 
passages. The poet further implies that the reader need 
not trouble his head with the historical background, " the 
incidents in the development of a soul " being all that is 
worth study. He seems to have the impression that the 
difficulty lies largely with the historical allusions. These 
are sometimes obscure enough ; but " the incidents in the 
development of a soul " are not always quite clear with- 
out a little study. The poet further, I am sorry to say, 
slightly loses his temper. He thinks that with " care for a 
man or a book " such difficulties would be easily sur- 
mounted. The grasshopper thinks that if the caterpillar 
really cared for his company, they might keep on very well 
together. He adds, however, " I blame nobody least of 
all myself." 

It is an interesting question why ' Sordello ' should have 
this pre-eminence of obscurity. It is not more profound 
than many of the other poems, ' Paracelsus,' for instance. 
Browning's first poem, ' Pauline,' is in its theme not wholly 
unlike ' Sordello.' This was followed by ' Paracelsus.' 
Then ' Sordello ' was begun. I gather that the first two 
books of this poem had been written when it was broken 
off in order that 'Strafford' might be created. Neither 
' Pauline ' nor 4 Paracelsus ' is difficult reading, and ' Straf- 
ford' is as easy as any one could desire. Why should 
4 Sordello,' preceded by two of these, and having the other 
interjected into its very heart, be so different ? 

The first answer that suggests itself is that while 
4 Pauline ' and 4 Paracelsus ' are written in blank verse and 
4 Strafford ' in prose, 4 Sordello ' is written in rhyme. It 
may be that the poet was thus hampered by conditions 
with which he was not familiar and of which he had not 
obtained the mastery. Perhaps even more important than 

' SORDELLO.' 339 

the limitations of rhyme and metre was the fact that they 
brought a peculiar inspiration with them. The poet may 
have felt more a poet. It may have seemed to him that a 
simple and straightforward telling of his story was hardly in 
keeping with the rhymed diction. He thus may have been 
moved to freer fancies and more intricate constructions, 
to minor affectations and mannerisms, which seemed to him 
to belong with the more ornamental metre and rhyme. 

Still more important I conceive to be the fact that 
' Sordello ' is not, like most of the works of Browning, a 
dramatic poem. The dramatic form must obviously tend 
to produce a certain clearness and directness of utterance. 
When one speaks to an auditor, whether real or imagined, 
one speaks to be understood. When one soliloquises, it 
makes comparatively little difference whether one is under- 
stood or not. Most poets do not need this protection. 
The instinct of form may be sufficient to keep them within 
the proper limits. It may be that they have their readers 
or hearers present to their thought. It may be that their 
imagination is so well under command that it can be left 
to itself. With Browning the instinct of form was not 
sufficiently developed to control his expression, while his 
imagination was so active, his fancies so abundant and 
eager, his thought so agile, that when the restraint of an 
interlocutor, real or fancied, was absent, they held high 
carnival together. 

The question now forces itself upon us, why is 'Sor- 
dello' thus exceptional among Browning's poems? We 
find the dramatic form in nearly all his poems, why not in 
this ? On the first page of * Sordello ' he tells us that he 
would have preferred the dramatic form. 

. . . Never, I should warn you first, 
Of my own choice had this, if not the worst 
Yet not the best expedient, served to tell 
A story I conld body forth so well 
By making speak, myself kept out of view, 
The very man as he was wont to do. 


The reason he gives for not doing this is a very lame one, 
if indeed it can be called a reason ; and we must try to 
solve the difficulty for ourselves. The question leads us 
to the very heart of our subject. 

In a paper which I had the honour to present to this society 
some years ago, which was afterward published in 'The 
Andover Review,' 1 and which was entitled, ' The Tragic 
Motif in Browning's Dramas,' I tried to show that all or 
nearly all these dramas are based upon some form or other 
of a collision between feeling and thought ; or, as we 
might phrase it, between the heart and the head. I have 
been greatly interested to notice that in the important 
work of Professor Jones on ' Browning as a Philosophical 
and Religious Teacher,' the author, working, of course, 
without any reference to my paper, finds a like collision 
indicated in much of Browning's later poetry. In the 
plays these elements are embodied in different personali- 
ties. We have Paracelsus representing the intellect over 
against Aprile representing the heart. In ' Luria' we 
have the two elements of the nature represented by the 
Moorish general Luria, and Braccio, the cold, calculating 
diplomatist. In the plays, the collision being an outward 
one, the form is naturally dramatic. I ventured to illus- 
trate this collision by a reference to ' Sordello.' This 
reference was so far justified that in Sordello the head 
and the heart are at variance, though this statement by no 
means exhausts the complexity of the inner division by 
which the spirit of Sordello is torn. In ' Sordello,' how- 
ever, the collision is no longer an outward one. The 
warring elements no longer stand over against one another 
embodied in separated personalities. There is, properly 
speaking, to the story only one hero. The different parts 
of his nature are at war with one another, and in the strife 
he falls. The history is thus fitted to be the theme of an 
epic poem rather than of a tragedy. 

1 Volume xi. page 113. 

4 SOKDELLO.' 341 

The theme of ' Pauline ' is indeed somewhat similar to 
that of ' Sordello.' In this we have a nature divided 
against itself, and the struggle is also an inner one ; but 
in it, however, we have the dramatic form. The hero is 
the spokesman, and tells the story of his life to the lady of 
his love. This poem is, however, comparatively short, and 
its success w r as hardly sufficient to justify a similar experi- 
ment on a larger scale. The spirit that is a prey to con- 
tending passions, that yields now to one ideal and now to 
another, that is never content with itself, can hardly be 
expected to give a satisfactory account of its inner life. 
' Pauline ' is the incoherent cry of a struggling soul. It 
contains passages of rare beauty, but as a whole the author 
considered it a failure. 

We notice, thus, in 'Sordello,' two conditions. In the 
first place, the author was trammelled by the unaccustomed 
rhyme. In the second place, he was free from the control 
of the dramatic form. The first of these conditions would 
naturally lead to certain artificial or involved forms of 
expression ; the second would imply the absence of any- 
thing which should correct this tendency, and indeed 
would itself favour a looseness and vagueness of expression. 
To these conditions we will add that the poet was still 
young, and that the poem was to be a .long one. 

There is another side to all this. The freedom from the 
bonds imposed by the dramatic form, united with the ten- 
dency to play with the metrical machinery, would give the 
poet an opportunity to show his powers under a different 
aspect from that in which they ordinarily appear. He is 
free to play. He may give free scope to his fancies and 
his impulses. This, as we have seen, may give place to 
obscurities that might not exist under other circumstances. 
At the same time it gives place to unwonted beauties. 
Pegasus, we may say, is enjoying the freedom of the 
pasture. His movements are irregular, but they are full 
of grace. In fact, some of the most beautiful utterances of 


the poet are found in this work. While this is true 
of the whole poem, I think it is especially true of the 
first two books and of the last. The subject treated in 
the first two has a special charm, and the poet felt the 
fresh inspiration of his theme. It was, you will remember, 
at about the close of the second book that he broke off his 
work to write ' Straff ord.' The last book presents the 
culmination of the story. I must admit, however, that 
sometimes in reading the other books I am inclined to 
deny the superiority of those to which I have specially 

' Sordello ' is, as I have intimated, the story of a life that 
was a failure because it was divided against itself. We 
may regard it as having two stages. The first of these 
closes with the second book. This presents the failure of 
Sordello as a poet. The remaining four books describe his 
failure as a man. Both failures have the same cause. 
They spring from a lack of spiritual coherence. Amid 
conflicting ideals and passions, with all his powers, Sor- 
dello accomplished nothing. The final defeat had, indeed, 
an aspect according to which it has a certain air of victory, 
so that the hero receives not merely our compassion, but to 
a certain extent our applause. Further, there is intimated a 
possible means by which the discordant nature of Sordello 
might have been brought into harmony with itself and 
thus into working order. 

Let us now glance more directly at the development of 
the story, though it is an ungrateful task to detach the 
incidents of the poem from the music and the fancy in 
which the poet has embodied them. 

The hero first appears in a pretty castle, where he lives 
almost alone. A few old women attend to his wants, and 
once in a while he catches a glimpse of Adelaide, the lady 
of the castle, skilled, so it is believed, in magic rites, and 
feared rather than loved. With her he has sometimes a 
glimpse of Palma, the fair daughter of the lord of the 

' SORDELLO.' 343 

castle, Ecelin, by a former marriage. He is " a slender 
boy in a loose page's dress." 

His face, 

Look now he turns away ! Yourselves shall trace 
(The delicate nostril swerving wide and fine, 
A sharp and restless lip, so well combine 
With that calm brow) a soul fit to receive 
Delight at every sense ; you can believe 
Sordello foremost in the regal class 
Nature has broadly severed from her mass 
Of men, and framed for pleasure, as she frames 
Some happy lands, that have luxurious names, 
For loose fertility. ... 
You recognise at once the finer dress 
Of flesh that amply lets in loveliness 
At eye and ear, while round the rest is furled 
(As though she would not trust them with her world) 
A veil that shows a sky not near so blue, 
And lets but half the sun look fervid through. 

" How can such love ? " asks the poet, and a little later 

To remove 

A curse that haunts such natures to preclude 
Their finding out themselves can work no good 
To what they love nor make it very blest 
By their endeavour, they are fain invest 
The lifeless thing with life from their own soul. 

One characteristic marks such persons, it is 

A need to blend with each external charm, 
Bury themselves, the whole heart wide and warm, 
In something not themselves ; they would belong 
To what they worship. 

There is another class that, instead of giving up them- 
selves in passionate love to the beauty that they discover, 
refer each quality that they recognise to themselves. If 
they have not already manifested such qualities, they think 
that it is because circumstances did not favour such mani- 
festation. It belongs to them none the less. 

A little singularly, while we have thus presented to us 
different classes of minds that seem to be antithetic to one 


another, Sordello appears to belong to them both. The 
description of the gentler class starts from the portraiture 
of Sordello ; and the description of the second class passes 
into a portraiture of the same. Perhaps one represents 
his earlier, and the other his somewhat later, experience. 
At any rate, it is with the later that we have to do in fol- 
lowing the story. Sordello is one of those self-conscious 
spirits that imagine themselves equal to any achievement, 
while at the same time they long with a passionate eager- 
ness for recognition from tlie world. 

At this point the poet pauses to give us a hint of that 
element in the nature of Sordello that is to prove his ruin. 
It is this, that he will not put forth his power because the 
opportunities that the world offers are not sufficient to 
fully manifest its greatness : 

Or if yet worse befall, 
And a desire possess it to put all 
That nature forth, forcing our straitened sphere 
Contain it, to display completely here 
The mastery another life should learn, 
Thrusting in time eternity's concern, 
So that Sordello 

Here the poet breaks off abruptly, not finishing his sen- 
tence, and exclaims, 

Fool, who spied the mark 
Of leprosy upon him, violet-dark 
Already as he loiters ? 

The condition first described is that of the spirit pictured 
in one of the most noteworthy of the poems of Emerson ; 
a spirit which 

Even in the hot pursuit of the best aims 
And prizes of ambition checks its hand, 
Like Alpine cataracts frozen as they leaped, 
Chilled with a miserly comparison 
Of the toy's purchase with the length of life. 

The other is that of one who undertakes to embody a per- 
fect ideal, an ideal for which earth has no place, and 

' SORDELLO.' 345 

fails because he strives to accomplish in time what belongs 
only to eternity. 

The poet quickly draws a veil over this revelation, and 
proceeds to picture the life of Sordello in the midst of the 
beautiful nature that surrounded him. He found in the 
companionship of this nature all the happiness he needed. 
All the fair objects that encompassed him were his tribu- 
taries. The world was -pledged to break up, sooner or 
later, this happy life ; but its disenchantment could touch 
but tardily the youth that was so fenced about " from most 
that nurtures judgment, care and pain." It was a self- 
ish life, no doubt ; but what was there to call out unself- 
ishness in him ? It was a peaceful existence, without the 
" throes and stings " that the conventional hero-worshipper 
assumes to mark the birth of genius. Time, however, at 
last put an end to this life of simple harmony with nature. 
The adoration of trees and flowers was no longer enough. 
The fancies that encompassed him detached themselves 
from simple, natural objects, and took form in imagined 
persons that surrounded him and paid him their homage. 
For himself he claimed all high qualities. Whatever 
heroic act he heard of stimulated his fancy. Ecelin, it 
seems, had with his sword overpowered a hired assassin 
that would take his life. Sordello felt that surely he 
could do as much. He tried to wield the brand, but it 
was too heavy for him. The time will come, he thinks, 
and bring the means for acting out himself. He strives to 
bend the rough-hewn ash-bow, but lets it fall from an ach- 
ing wrist. It is better now to dream : 

Straight, a gold shaft hissed 
Into the Syrian air, struck Malek down 
Superbly ! " Crosses to the breach ! God's Town 
Is gained Him back ! " Why bend rough ash bows more ? 

Thus he dreams, gathering to himself all strength and 
glory. He is not only Ecelin, he is the Emperor Frederick. 
He is still more ; he is Apollo, the god of all strength and 


grace ; and since he learns that Palrna has rejected Count 
Richard's suit, she seems worthy to figure in his dreams 
and share his honours. 

This life in dreams, this identifying himself with one 
hero and another, we might almost venture to guess was 
not wholly foreign to the experience of Browning himself. 
At least it formed a part of his early ideal of aspiring and 
romantic youth. We find something similar in ' Pauline.' 
In this the speaker tells how he revelled in romances, and 
how he identified himself with the heroes of them. 

At last Bordello grew weary and impatient. Fancies 
were not sufficient for his life. There came to his quiet 
corner no change. He resolves to go out and show himself 
to the great world. He might meet Palma. He might in 
some way be recognised for what he felt himself to be. 

There was a festival in the city, a court of love. Sor- 
clello found himself, at last, face to face with the reality of 
life. No acclaim greeted him. There sat Palma, the 
Palma of his dream; but to her he was nothing. He 
looked to see the hero, who might have been himself, place 
himself by her side. Instead of this, " a showy man ad- 
vanced." This was Eglamor, the troubadour. He sang 
his song, which was received with delighted applause. 
Sordello felt his heart stir within him ; not in vain had 
been his life of idle dreaming. He saw the imperfection of 
the poem. He sprang into the place of the singer. He 
took the same story and retold it. The people recognised 
the difference : 

. . . But the people but the cries, 
The crowding round, and proffering the prize ! 
For he had gained some prize. 

He found himself at the feet of Palma, who laid her scarf 
about his neck. Amidst smiles and congratulations he 
was escorted to his home. He was told that Eglamor had 
died of shame at his defeat, and that Palma had chosen 
him as her minstrel. 

' SOEDELLO.' 347 

No part of the poem is sweeter and tenderer than that 
which describes the fate of Eglamor. This singer was the 
precise antithesis to Sordello. His heart was wholly in his 
song. He had no other dream, no other ambition. His 
nature was a simple unity. His poetiy was commonplace 
enough, but the spirit of poetiy was in it, and the love of 
all beautiful things. Sordello meets the little train that 
bears him to his last resting-place. He takes from his own 
brow his wreath and lays it on the poet's breast. 

This whole experience makes a great change in the 
inner life of Sordello. He has also learned the story that 
was current of himself. He who had dreamed such great 
things was simply the son of a poor archer. His ambition 
narrowed itself. He had a special calling ; he was to be a 
poet. This, however, seemed to him the sum of all lives, 
for to the poet all lives are open. He passes from one 
phase of life to another, extracting the beauty and the joy 
of all. Sordello believed that men would see in him the 
glory and the possibility of all these lives. Browning, how- 
ever, throws in a word making a gentle mock of this desire 
of one who felt himself so exalted above the world to win 
the recognition and applause of the world that he despised. 

We now approach the first grand crisis in the story of 
Sordello. He is summoned to Mantua to fulfil his task as 
minstrel. The inspiration was gone. " 'T was the song's 
effect he cared for, scarce the song itself," and we are told 
that at last the rhymes were E glamor's. Here we are 
shown how the life of Sordello was utterly broken up, 
distracted by opposing ideals and ambitions. The man 
part of him and the poet part were at variance ; the man 
part hankered after the actual joys and experiences of life. 
The poet's art seemed hardly worth the while unless it 
helped to these. Poetry did not bring the kind of recog- 
nition he had hoped for. He had fancied that men would 
applaud in him the courage and the strength of the hero 
of whom he sang. Their applause passed over him to 


reacli the hero whom he had praised. Instead of crying, 
How great is Sordello, they cried, How great is Montfort, 
who was the hero of his song. 

He refined his language till it became too delicate for 
his purpose. He elaborated his characters till thought 
took the place of perception. He cared little for the 
Mantuans to whom he sang. He found that he had to 
idealize them as he had done his trees and his flowers. He 
could not meet them on equal terms. They would come 
to him with a question. 

A speedy aiiswer followed ; but, alas, 
One of God's large ones, tardy to condense 
Itself into a period. . . . 

Then he tried to meet them in their own superficial way ; 
but he could not quite hit the mark. 

Weeks, months, years went by, 
And lo, Sordello vanished utterly, 
Sundered in twain ; each spectral part at strife 
With each . . . 

. But the complete Sordello, Man and Bard, 
John's cloud-girt angel, this foot on the land, 
That on the sea, with, open in his hand, 
A bitter- sweetling of a book was gone. 

Thus ends the first division of the story. As a poet, he 
failed because his nature was not in harmony. His ideals 
clashed. What his heart aspired to, his intellect could not 
compass. His inclinations and passions dragged him in 
opposite directions. He felt that he was a failure. On 
the eve of a festival at which he was to sing he fled and 
found himself again in the familiar haunts of his youth. 
At first he enjoyed the quiet and the beauty. It was not, 
however, quite the old thing. His double consciousness 
still haunted him. 

He slept, but was aware he slept, 

So, frustrated : as who brainsick made pact 

Erst with the overhanging cataract 

To deafen him, yet still distinguished plain 

His own blood's measured clicking at his brain. 

* SOEDELLO.' 349 

He, therefore, welcomed a call to appear again in the 
world as Palma's minstrel. This leads up to his second 
great failure. His divided nature had caused failure as a 
poet. He was now for the same cause to fail as a man. 

Having introduced the personality of Sordello, con- 
sidered as poet, so fully, I shall be able to pass over this 
portion of the story more rapidly, dwelling only on the final 
catastrophe of the failure of Sordello considered as man. 

As Sordello found himself amid the throng of men, his 
first sense was that of disappointment. They were not 
what he had dreamed. How few he saw that were worthy 
to be chiefs ! Then the thought of the people seized him, 
and a profound sympathy for them filled his soul. He 
marvelled that in his dreams of ambition he had left them 
wholly out of the account. He found that the cause of the 
Guelph, which was the cause of the Pope, was also the 
people's cause ; a.nd a passion took possession of him to 
build Rome up to a new glory. Summoned to appear 
before Taurello Salinguerra, whom he met in the presence 
of Palma, he pleaded with this great Ghibelline thief to 
take up the Guelph cause, and strike for the Pope and the. 
people. I must confess that his speech, however eloquent, 
was singularly little fitted to accomplish its end. Finally 
it was explained by Palma that Sordello was not the son 
of a poor archer, as he had supposed, but of Salinguerra 

Sordello thus found himself in the presence of oppor- 
tunities to satisfy at once his love and his ambition. He 
could marry Palma. He could take his place as the leader 
of the Ghibellines. The world could not have opened 
more dazzlingly before him. But how about his new-found 
devotion to the cause of the people ? Should he sacrifice 
the cause which embodied his whole ideal of duty and 
humanity ? Or should he abandon the delight of love, of 
power, and of the splendours of the world? The badge 
which represented authority was already laid upon him. 


Salinguerra and Palma left him, and he remained alone 
with his own thoughts. 

The sixth and last book of the poem which contains the 
record of this inner struggle forms the climax of the work. 
It is pre-eminent for depth of insight and strength of pre- 
sentation. Though somewhat crude, it is yet, by its 
dialectic subtlety, not unworthy to stand by the side of 
' Bishop Blougram's Apology,' or any other exhibition of 
psychological subtlety that is found in Browning's more 
mature works, while it is rilled with the very fire and 
passion of youth. 

Sordello looked back over his life. "Every shift and 
change, effort with counter effort," opened to his gaze. 
No one of them seemed wrong, except as it checked some 
other. " The real way seemed made up of all the ways." 
If only there could have been some overmastering will that 
should have united the divided forces of his life and have 
brought them to bear upon some one great end ! What he 
needed was a " soul above his soul," " power to uplift his 
power," the " moon's control over the sea-depths." But 
the sky was empty. He had thus been without a function. 
Others without half his strength attained to the crown of 
life. Neither Palma's love nor a Salinguerra's hate could 
master him completely. Should he for this doubt that 
there was some moon to match his sea ? 

He seems next to turn the view of life which so often 
serves as a basis for philanthropy into an argument for his 
selfishness. I refer to the idea of the community of being, 
which Schopenhauer presents as the source of love and 
self-sacrifice. Suppose, he cries, there is no external force 
such as he had been wishing should control his life. Sup- 
pose that he was ordained to be a law to his own sphere. 
Suppose all other laws seemed foreign only because they 
were veiled, while really they were manifestations of him- 
self. Suppose the people whom he yearned to help were 
simply himself presented to himself, why should he feel 

' SOKDELLO.' 351 

bound to sacrifice himself specially for them ? " No ! 
All 's himself : all service therefore rates alike." 

Yet he would gladly help the people if he could only be 
sure that he could really help them. If only the true 
course would open itself plainly before him ; if the right 
and the wrong were only separated more sharply from one 

if one man bore 

Brand upon temples, while his fellow wore 
The aureole, 

all would be easy. 

Then he faced as he had never done before the great 
problem of life. He saw how what we call good is de- 
pendent upon what we call evil. Indeed, what would 
become of good if there were no evil ? Faith and courage 
spring from suffering. Evil is as natural in the world as 
good. Why, then, should he ruin his life in the attempt 
to destroy evil, when he would, if he succeeded, destroy 
also the possibility of good ? If suffering were taken from 
the earth, joy would disappear with it. Joy comes from 
the enlargement of life ; it is an escape. Sordello remem- 
bers that he himself, in his early home, where there was 
only beauty, felt beauty pall upon him. Men are like 
those who climb a mountain. As they rise, each step opens 
new grandeur. Once on the mountain top, with " leave to 
look, not leave to do," the looker would soon be sated. 
Thus, if he yielded to the impulse to devote himself to the 
people, he would give what would ruin him, and would not 
really help them. It will be noticed that here Sordello 
presents quite accurately the theory of happiness and pain 
which forms the basis of the pessimism of Schopenhauer. 
It is that happiness is merely negative, consisting in the 
removal of unhappiness. When the unhappiness has gone, 
the happiness has gone with it. So long as one has thirst, 
what pleasure the water gives ! As the thirst is quenched, 
the water loses its charm. 


In the next thought that Sordello utters, he assumes 
that the world of life is making steady advance toward the 
heights of peace. The world is moving on ; but men 
travel at different rates of speed. Why should any grudge 
it to him if he reaches the height of joy a little before the 
rest ? 

Then the passion seized him to make the most of this 
life ; to seize what the present offered ; not waiting for the 
chance of something, better perhaps, but belonging to the 

Wait not for the late savour, leave untried 
Virtue, the creaming honey-wine, quick squeeze 
Vice like a biting spirit from the lees 
Of life ! Together let wrath, hatred, lust, 
All tyrannies in every shape, be thrust 
Upon this Now, which time may reason out 
As mischiefs, far from benefits, no doubt; 
But long ere then Sordello will have slipt 

He would thus live the life that was given him in the 
present, and trust that in this way he would best prepare 
himself for that which is to follow. 

Oh life, life-breath, 

Life-blood, ere sleep, come travail, life ere death! 
Tin's life stream on my soul, direct, oblique, 
But always streaming ! Hindrances ? They pique . 
Helps ? Such . . . but why repeat, ray soul o'ertops 
Each height, than every depth profoundlier drops ? 
Enough that I can live, and would live ! Wait 
For some transcendent life reserved by Fate 
To follow this ? Oh, never ! Fate, I trust 
The same, my soul to ; for, as who flings dust, 
Perchance (so facile was the deed) she chequed 
The void with these materials to affect 
My soul diversely : these consigned anew 
To nought by death, what marvel if she threw 
A second and superber spectacle 
Before it 1 What may serve for sun, what still 
Wander a moon above me ? What else wind 
About me like the pleasures left behind, 
And how shall some new flesh that is not flesh 
Cling to me ? What 's new laughter * Soothes the fresh 

' SORDELLO.' 353 

Sleep like sleep ? . . . 

. . . Oh, 't were too absurd to slight 

For the hereafter the to-day's delight ! 

Quench thirst at this, then seek next well-spring ; wear 

Home-lilies ere strange lotus in my hair ! 

Living the earthly life, it is the earthly life that he would 

Were heaven to forestall earth, I 'd say 
I, is it, must be blest ? Then, my own way 
Bless me ! give firmer arm and fleeter foot, 
I '11 thank you : but to no mad wings transmute 
These limbs of mine our greensward was so soft ! 
Nor camp I on the thunder-cloud aloft : 
We feel the bliss distinctlier, having thus 
Engines subservient, not mixed up with us. 
Better move palpably through heaven : nor, freed 
Of flesh, forsooth, from space to space proceed 
'Mid flying synods of worlds ! No : in heaven's marge 
Show Titan still, recumbent o'er his targe 
Solid with stars the Centaur at his game, 
Made tremulously out in hoary flame ! 

Then he recalls the martyrs who have borne the most 
fearful tortures, because the death that he would fly "re- 
vealed so oft a better life this life concealed." Their 
example does not move him, for they saw what he does not 
see. He exclaims : 

'T was well for them ; let me become aware 
As they, and I relinquish life, too ! Let 
What masters life disclose itself ! Forget 
Vain ordinances, I have one appeal 
I feel, am what I feel, know what I feel ; 
So much is truth to me. 

Things, he urges, present different aspects to different 
persons. Who shall decide that what is true to one is not 
as really true as that which is true to another ? He thus 
refers to facts which have furnished support to philosophi- 
cal scepticism as making the attainment of absolute truth 
impossible. He reasons, however, as Professor Royce has 
recently done, that these facts taken by themselves would 
make error impossible. He cries, 



What Is, then ? Since 
One object, viewed diversely, may evince 
Beauty and ugliness this way attract, 
That way repel, why gloze upon the fact ? 
Why must a single of the sides be right ? 
What bids choose this and leave the opposite ? 
Where 's abstract Right for me ? 

As he looked more deeply, he seemed to see that the dis- 
tinctions of which we make so much might be, after all, 
merely phenomena that meet us in the present state of 
being, and have no relation to the absolute truth of things 

The sudden swell 

Of his expanding soul showed 111 and Well, 
Sorrow and Joy, Beauty and Ugliness, 
Virtue and Vice, the Larger and the Less, 
All qualities, in fine, recorded here, 
Might be but modes of Time and this one sphere, 
Urgent on these, but not of force to bind 
Eternity, as Time as Matter Mind, 
If Mind, Eternity, should choose assert 
Their attributes within a Life : thus girt 
With circumstance, next change beholds them cinct 
Quite otherwise. . . . 

. . . Once this understood, 
As suddenly he felt himself alone, 
Quite out of Time and this world : all was known. 

He seemed to himself to have discovered that happiness 
consists in reaching just the equipoise between the soul 
and the conditions in which it finds itself. One should 
seek to live the sort of life which can be lived perfectly in 
this present world. One should attempt a life no larger 
than can be lived where he is. If this equipoise is pre- 
served in every stage of being, then each stage will be 
filled out in its turn, and the career of the soul in its 
successive existences will be one of triumphant success. 
When, however, the soul undertakes to interfere too much 
with the concerns of the body, the word " body " stand- 
ing for the whole worldly life, then this existence is 
spoiled. Something is undertaken which cannot be per- 
formed, and the result is a failure. 

' SOEDELLO.' 355 

If the soul in every stage thus strives to anticipate what 
can be accomplished only in the life that is next to follow, 
existence will be a long succession of failures. Thus he 

Let the soul's attempt sublime 
Matter beyond the scheme and so prevent 
By more or less that deed's accomplishment, 
And Sorrow follows : Sorrow how avoid ? 
Let the employer match the thing employed, 
Fit to the finite his infinity, 
And thus proceed for ever, in degree 
Changed, but in kind the same, still limited 
To the appointed circumstance and dead 
To all beyond. A sphere is but a sphere ; 
Small, Great, are merely terms we bandy here ; 
Since to the spirit's absoluteness all 
Are like. 

The soul, however, as I have intimated, may interfere in 
such a way as to spoil this balance. It may undertake too 

She chose to understand the body's trade 
More than the body's self had fain conveyed 
Her boundless to the body's bounded lot. 
Hence, the soul permanent, the body not, 
Scarcely its minute for enjoying here, 
The soul must needs instruct her weak compeer, 
Eun o'er its capabilities and wring 
A joy thence, she held worth experiencing : 
Which, far from half discovered even, lo 
The minute gone, the body's power let go 
Apportioned to that joy's acquirement ! 

Thus does the soul attempt to fill out the weakness of 
the body from her infinity : 

And the result is, the poor body soon 

Sinks under what was meant a wondrous boon, 

Leaving its bright accomplice all aghast. 

Must such failure go on for ever ? Must life be ever just 
escaped, which should have been enjoyed, which would 
have been enjoyed if soul and body had worked harmo- 
niously together, the soul not striving to put more into life 


than its fmiteness can hold ? If the proper relation were 
preserved, soul and body would be fitted to one another 
like the heaven and the placid water of the bay in which 
it is reflected. They would match ' one another like the 
two wings of an angel. Thus would each stage of the 
endless journey be filled with the joy that is its due, 

But how so order life ? Still brutalise 
The soul, the sad world's way, with muffled eyes 
To all that was before, all that shall be 
After this sphere all aud each quality 
Save some sole and immutable Great, Good 
And Beauteous whither fate has loosed its hood 
To follow ? Never may some soul see All 
The Great Before and After, and the Small 
Now, yet be saved by this the simplest lore, 
And take the single course prescribed before, 
As the king-bird with ages on his plumes 
Travels to die in his ancestral glooms ? 
But where descry the Love that shall select 
That course ? Here is a soul whom, to affect, 
Nature has plied with all her means, from trees 
And flowers e'en to the Multitude ! and these, 
Decides he save or no ? One word to end ! 

Here the poet intercepts in his own person and speaks 
of a divine-human revelation that would bring succour and 

Ah my Sordello, I this once befriend 

And speak for yon. Of a Power above you still 

Which utterly incomprehensible 

Is out of rivalry, which thus you can 

Love, tho ? unloving all conceived by man 

What need ! And of ... 

. . . a Power its representative 
Who, being for authority the same, 
Communication different, should claim 
A course, the first chose and this last revealed 
This Human clear, as that Divine concealed 
What utter need ! 

I am not sure that this last passage does not give what 
was, in the author's mind, the culmination and the signifi- 
cance of the whole poem. It points to the divine-human 

4 SOKDELLO.' 357 

revelation which might bring peace and guidance into the 
troubled and doubtful lives of men. You may remember 
that we have already seen that Sordello had felt that the 
failure of his life had been caused by the lack of some 
overmastering and directing power. It may help us to 
understand the importance which this apostrophe had for 
the poet to remember the longing expressed by the name- 
less hero of ' Pauline.' After an extremely touching ref- 
erence to the Christ, he cries : 

A mortal, sin's familiar friend, doth here 
Avow that he will give all earth's reward, 
But to believe and humbly teach the faith, 
In suffering and poverty and shame, 
Only believing he is not unloved. 

However this may be, the apostrophe in * Sordello ' was 
introduced with marvellous rhetorical skill. It distracts 
our attention from Sordello at the very moment when his 
mental struggle reached its crisis. Those without heard a 
cry. Salinguerra and Palma rushed to the spot : 

They mount, have reached the threshold, dash the veil 

Aside and you divine who sat there dead, 

Under his foot the badge : still, Palma said, 

A triumph lingering in the wide eyes, 

Wider than some spent swimmer's if he spies 

Help from above in his extreme despair, 

And, head far back on shoulder thrust, turns there 

With short quick passionate cry : as Palma pressed, 

In one great kiss, her lips upon his breast, 

It beat. 

In all this colloquy of Sordello with himself, of which I 
have given scanty extracts, there is no word which urged 
the great act of self-sacrifice. We have simply the per- 
sonal desires encompassing the soul with all the sophistries 
of the intellect. The heart which discerns the higher and 
truer course makes no reply. It simply breaks through 
the toils of the intellect with a mighty effort. It has 
beaten off the foe, but it was a life-and-death struggle, and 


death was the issue. As we read, we have a sense of vic- 
tory. To the poet it was no victory, but a drawn battle. 
Of course he was not altogether unmindful of the heroic 
nature of the struggle. He gave an intimation at the end 
of the third book that after all we should not find that 
Sordello was quite as bad as he might appear. You re- 
member, however, the poem entitled ' The Statue and the 
Bust.' Browning believed in decision and in act. The 
story of Sordello is that of a life that was wasted by inde- 
cision, because it was always attracted by different and 
irreconcilable ideals. It is the story of a nature, the ele- 
ments of which were in constant strife ; the head and the 
heart, the ideal and the personal, were always at war 
within him, and the result was a life that was no life. 
The poet has no word of congratulation in regard to what 
to us seems a spiritual triumph. He describes the wretched 
condition in which things were left at the death of Sordello, 
the ignoble strifes, the petty but destructive ambitions, the 
warring factions that occupied the scene, till we feel that 
it might have been better if Sordello had worn the badge, 
and taken the position to which he had been born. All 
the trace that he left behind him was found in the fragment 
of a song which a boy sang as he climbed the hills. 

I have tried simply to give some hints of this story of a 
soul. Of the brilliant ' picturing of contemporary life I 
have said nothing, nor of the historical allusions, which 
sometimes tax our power of comprehension. The few 
characters that figure in the story are for the most part 
well defined and sharply drawn by a few touches of a mas- 
ter's hand. There is Ecelin, the head of the Ghibelline 
party, crafty, cruel, and weak ; who needed to be continu- 
ally braced up by Adelaide, his wife, and who at her death 
sought refuge in a monastery to make atonement for his 
many sins. There is Adelaide, the possessor of magical 
gifts, hated and feared. There is Taurello Salinguerra, 
the bluff, good-natured soldier, who preferred to be second 

' SOEDELLO.' 359 

when he might have been the first. There is Naddo, the 
genius hunter and haunter, the superficial and conventional 
critic, who seemed to worship a poet, but would not for the 
world that his son should be a poet. There is Eglamor, 
the sweet singer, whose life all went into his common- 
place songs, and who died of grief at his defeat. Palma, I 
am sorry to say, cannot be placed among these clearly 
marked characters. To tell the truth, she is little more 
than a lay figure, or, more properly perhaps, a succession 
of lay figures. There is a very pretty picture of her in her 
young girlhood; but this is rather Sordello's fancy than 
the real Palma. Later, when Sordello met her for a con- 
fidential talk, we read : 

But when she felt she held her friend indeed 

Safe, she threw back her curls, began implant her lessons. 

This fling of the curls makes us think of a gay young 
thing, or a sentimental damsel, as perhaps she was. Then 
she explained that while Sordello was aspiring to mastery 
she had been longing for some power that should take 
command of her life ; and this aspiration is very prettily 
related. It seems, too, that she had chosen Sordello as he 
had chosen her. Later, however, when the occasion offered 
itself, she did not hesitate to take, nominally at least, the 
position of commander-in-chief of the Ghibelline forces, 
and to assume the practical direction of Sordello himself. 
Once she unexpectedly appears to Sordello, in the night, 
in the midst of the crowd that thronged the streets. I fear 
that her longing for some master-spirit to control her life 
was rather sentimental than real. There is no evidence 
that Sordello's affection for her was very profound. Con- 
sidered as a love-story, it must be confessed that the poem 
is a failure. The power that created Pippa and Mildred, 
Anael and Colombe, seems not yet to have been aroused. 
It is, however, not at all as a love-story that the poem 
should be regarded. It is, as Browning himself tells us, 


the story of the "Development of a soul," and to this 
everything else is subsidiary. 

There is an extremely interesting passage at the end of 
the third book, in which the poet breaks loose from his 
story and appears in his own person, musing on a ruined 
palace-step at Venice. This passage, extending over some 
dozen pages, is not always of the clearest, but has for me a 
great fascination. One point in it has a special interest, as 
possibly throwing light upon the poet's interest in his 
dramatic creations. The poet touches upon the problem 
of evil. He says : 

Ask moreover, when they prate 
Of evil meii past hope, " Don't each contrive, 
Despite the evil you abuse, to live ? 
Keeping, each losel, through a maze of lies, 
His own conceit of truth ? to which he hies 
By obscure windings, tortuous, if you will, 
But to himself not inaccessible ; 
He sees truth, and his lies are for the crowd 
Who cannot see ; some fancied right allowed 
His vilest wrong, empowered the losel clutch 
One pleasure from a multitude of such 
Denied him. 

This inner self-justification of every life would appear to 
be that which especially interests Browning in the por- 
trayal of the widely different characters which he presents 
to us. It is this inner life, the way in which every man 
appears to himself, which, if I understand the passage 
aright, is what the " Makers see " are to reveal to the 

We may take in connection with this a very curious 
passage which was written by Browning on the fly-leaf of 
a copy of ' Pauline ' : 

" 'Pauline ' . . . written in pursuance of a foolish plan I for- 
get, or have no wish to remember, involving the assumption of 
several distinct characters : the world was never to guess that 
such an opera, such a comedy, such a speech proceeded from 

'SOKDELLO.' 361 

the same notable person. . . . Only this crab remains of the 
shapely Tree of Life in my Fool's Paradise." 1 

Although Browning here speaks so slightingly of this 
scheme, it seems to indicate what was to be the work of 
his life. He was to represent in the first person the most 
widely different characters; while the quotation that I 
just made from ' Sordello ' would seem to show the spirit 
in which this was to be done and the inspiring motive. It 
is pleasant to see at the very beginning of his career its 
entire course so distinctly foreshadowed. 

In conclusion it may be asked what has the Sordello of 
Browning to do with the Sordello of history ? What may 
we suppose to have impelled the poet to take this char- 
acter and make him the hero of this tale ? Students of 
Browning have taken great pains to search out all that can 
be known of the original Sordello. Mr. Cooke, in his 
' Guidebook,' sums up the result of these investigations 
thus : " Sordello lived during the first part of the thir- 
teenth century ; and he was a poet, a troubadour, a soldier 
by profession, and a politician of some ability. Little is 
now known about him, and that little is much obscured by 
tradition and legend." Mr. Cooke suggests that " it is 
probable that two persons have in some way been mixed 
together in the accounts given of him." The most inter- 
esting thing in regard to him is the admiration with which 
Dante speaks of him. Perhaps the most important fact of 
his life is one which Dante commemorates ; namely, that in 
his poems he did much toward the formation of the Tuscan 
tongue. When we survey these meagre results, the diffi- 
culty of understanding in what way this hardly known 
personage fascinated Browning seems, at first sight, greater 
than ever. 

I think that the inspiration which came to Browning 
sprang x>ut of this very meagreness. In Sordello he found 

1 See Cooke's Browning Guidebook, page 286. 


a man of great genius. If he had not been such, Dante 
would not so have honoured him. He was a man who ex- 
celled in poetry, in war, and in diplomacy. He was one 
of the creators of the magnificent Tuscan speech. Yet so 
far as his personality was concerned, how little record has 
he left of himself ! A few poems remain, which the com- 
mentators try to understand, and to guess what power they 
may have had for those who first heard them. We have 
thus a splendid personality and small accomplishment. 
May it not be that he frittered his strength away in these 
various pursuits, each of which had a certain interest for 
him ? May it not be that in his effort to refine his lan- 
guage he took from it something of its force? May it 
not be that, standing as he did_jn-fcke-early days of the 
Renaissance in which the spirits of men were impelled in 
various oifections"and were attracted byTlifferent ideals, 
his own spirit lost its unity, and that, thus distracted, his 
life found no worthy expression ? Out of such question- 
ings I conceive that the Sordello of Browning drew its 
suggestion and its inspiration. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, Dec. 31, 1895.] 

As a whole, our English poetry has been more deeply in- 
fluenced by antiquity, in closer sympathy with the loftiest 
spirits of both Greece and Rome, than has perhaps any 
other modern national school. Several of our poets 
Milton, Gray, Swinburne have been themselves really 
learned Grecians. Browning's great contemporary, Ten- 
nyson, called his first Arthurian idyll " weak Homeric 
echoes," and Tennyson has really more reminiscences of 
Homer than of Shakespeare, shows more clearly the effect 
of Virgil or Theocritus than even of Milton. Browning 
himself was the son of one classical scholar and the 
husband of another. He was lulled to sleep as a child in 
his father's library with the Greek verses of Anacreon (or 
rather the Anacreontics, we suspect). If we interpret the 
poem 'Development' literally, he began Greek by his 
eighth year, and read Homer through as soon as he had 
" ripened somewhat," which would hardly point beyond his 
twelfth summer. Indeed he speaks of himself as " the all- 
accomplished scholar " at that age : mockingly of course, 
but indicating that he really had finished the 'Iliad,' at 
least. Certainly Browning as a young student must have 
been fully acquainted with the best Greek and Roman 
poets in their own speech. ' Balaustion,' however, his first 
important essay in translation, appeared in the poet's 


sixtieth year. If we examine the whole body of his work 
up to that time, we shall iind surprisingly little of direct 
allusion, even, to classical themes and persons. 

The explanation for this is not altogether evident or 
simple. It is not, indeed, likely that the boy fell under 
the influence of any teacher in England, seventy years ago, 
who could adequately reveal to him the full beauty and 
meaning, the manifold illumination of life and art, to be 
discovered in Sophocles, or Pindar, or Lucretius. Yet his 
affection for Homer, for Ovid, and some others, is un- 

But the very perfection, the rounded completeness of an_ 

4 Odyssey,' or an ' Antigone,' set their creators farther away 
from the eager, struggling, throbbing heart of the young 

What 'a come to perfection perishes, 

he cries. 

They are perfect how else ? they shall never change: 
We are faulty why not ? we have time in store. 

It is unnecessary to multiply citations from the poem ' Old 
Pictures in Florence,' where this thought is copiously 

Then again, though the Greek drama could not (or 
would not) portray violent action in realistic fashion (as 
Horace puts it, " Let not Medea slay her children before 
the people," but behind the scenes), yet nearly all the 
ancient poets depict men and women acting, or at least 
talking. Even when an Homeric hero is utterly alone, he 
does n't ponder in silence a complex thought, but " Thus 
he speaks to his own stout heart " (e. g. ' Odyssey,' V. 
855). One monologue in ' Paracelsus,' moreover, perhaps 
excels in length all the soliloquies of the ' Iliad ' and the 
' Odyssey ' combined. True, there is a famous soliloquy 
in the 'Medea' itself (vss. 764-810), but it is in reality a 
thrilling dialogue between the loving mother and the 
woman scorned and we listen, eager to know which will 


conquer and determine her action. Moreover, the women 
of the chorus are present, and are at one point directly 
appealed to (line 797, fyiXai). 

In one sense Browning is objective enough, too. He 
did not merely, as the young Longfellow bade, " look into " 
his own " heart and write." Porphyria's lover is not young 
Browning, nor even one impulse of his given free rein, but 
a madman, of whom the poet was making an exhaustive 
study one of the thousand hearts into whose uttermost 
depths he gazed, and found that which he recorded. Yet 
it is man thinking and feeling, the inner life and growth, 
that always drew his eye. " My stress," he says, " lay on 
the incidents in the development of a soul : Tittle else is 
worth study. I, at least, always thought so." This, from 
the dedication of ' Sordello ' in 1863, nearly a quarter-cen- 
tury after its first appearance, is really the key to almost 
all his work. 

But that simple phrase about the "development of a 
soul_!* could probably not have been made intelligible at 
all to any of the earlier Greek poets, at least. They hardly 
felt, even, in regard to a living man, the dualism implied 
in our " body and soul." What faith in immortality they 
had grew out of their delight in this physical life, and was 
but a pale reflection of it in the Unknown (vide e. g. 
'Odyssey,' XI. 488-91), quite the reverse of the eager 
confidence in higher reaches of soul-life, voiced so glori- 
ously in ' Prospice.' It may be doubted if any Greek 
before Socrates could have understood such words about 
Death as 

A battle 's to fight ere the guerdon be gained, 
The reward of it all. 

No early Hellenic poet would have said even 

Grow old along with me ! 
The best is yet to be. 
The last of life, for which the first was made. 

Rabbi Ben Ezra. 


It is necessary to emphasise some of these diversities. It 
is almost too hackneyed to call Browning a Gothic man, 
but it is irresistibly true. The typical Greek loved life for 
its own sweet sake, fully enjoyed it, wished it no other, 
only unending. Browning, as another great Englishman 
has frankly confessed, could not have endured heaven 
itself under such conditions. Struggle, ascent, growth, 
were sweet to him. To be still learning was better than 
to know. 

The very architecture of the Greeks, the level architrave, 
the steadfast columns, the completeness, simplicity, and 
restfulness of the outlines, the due subordination of every 
detail to the general effect all this wearies and cramps 
the true Gothic mind. (They were no Vandals who more 
than once muttered to me under Attic skies that the 
Acropolis was the eye-sore of Athens!) 

Probably most of us sympathise somewhat with this half- 
rebellion against Classicism. " Nature is Gothic, too," 
said a fearless woman the other day. Something of the 
turmoil and complexity of life, as much as possible of its 
discontent and aspiration, we crave to see echoed in our 
art. The struggling spire even Giotto's' unfinished tower 
uplift the soul, with the eye, higher than the eagle of 
the Hellenic pediment ever soared. 

The clearest evidence that Browning resisted, so to 
speak, the alien influence of Greek art is. afforded by the 
fragment called 4 Artemis Prologizes.' Upon the proof he 
wrote : " The above is nearly all retained of a tragedy I 
composed much against my endeavour, while in bed with 
a fever two years ago. It went farther into the story of 
1 1 ippolytus and Aricia; but when I got well, putting only 
thus much down at once, I soon forgot the remainder." 
The one hundred and twenty or so verses are a single 
speech of Artemis in the Euripidean manner. The best 
of it is a fine account of Hippolytos' disaster, transcribed 
rather freely from the messenger's speech in the Greek 


play. Now, this undertaking was not to be in essence a 
mere translation at all, but would have worked out a fea- 
ture of the myth not alluded to by Euripides, probably 
not known to him, namely, the resuscitation of the dead 
prince Hippolytos by the goddess Artemis, and his mad 
love for one of her attendant nymphs. This resuscitation, 
it will be noticed, is akin to the chief motif in ' Alkestis.' 
And yet, with returning health, his own independent 
tastes asserted themselves, and this project was abandoned 
altogether. All this occurred about 1841. 

In their flowing rhythm and easy construction these 
verses are much more Euripidean than some of the later 
attempts. But as his full vigour revived, Browning, at 
twenty-nine, could no longer remain submissive, even in 
forms, to the restraints of classicism. He loved the frag- 
ment as Goethe did his but-begun ' Achilleid,' for he 
included it in his volume of selections which best illus- 
trated his own development. But neither Goethe nor 
Browning found time in a long life to complete what he 
had begun. 

The unquestioned culmination of Mr. Browning's ca- 
reer is ' The Ring and the Book.' Unless our multiplica- 
tion is greatly at fault, that contains nearly twenty-four - 
thousand lines, or just about as much as the entire body of 
nineteen Greek tragedies by Euripides still extant. Its 
action might possibly have sufficed for one, after the man- 
ner of the ' Medea.' That world-famous masterpiece con- 
tains fourteen hundred lines, or about one-third as much as 
4 Fifine at the Fair,' less verses by far than are devoted to 
one of Browning's Americans : 4 Mr. Sludge the Medium.' 
In choice of subjects, in the point of view from which he 
studied them, and in the mass and measure of treatment, 
Browning Avas pre-eminently un-Greek, unclassical. 

It appears likely, then, that when Browning's own crea- 
tive activity began in earnest, his Greek studies, almost 
immediately, seemed but far-away, beautiful pictures from 


his student-past : rarely coming near the fields in which he 

In ' Pauline,' the speaker says : 

Old delights 
Had flocked like birds again ; 

and the first of these fleeting memories is of 

that king 
Treading the purple calmly to his death, 

that is, the splendid tragic figure of the home-returning 
Agamemnon. It is worth noting that to this, the earliest 
of his classical allusions, Browning returned nearly a half- 
century later for his last great essay in translation. The 
far more vivid and tender allusion to Andromeda, on a 
later page of ' Pauline,' was inspired by no classical poet 
not even Ovid (who was apparently closer to Browning's 
heart than almost any Greek) but by an actual picture, 
an engraving after Caravaggio. 1 ' Pauline ' contains also 
one of Browning's rare allusions to Sophocles : 

Or I will read great lays to thee how she, 
The fair pale sister, went to her chill grave 
With power to love and to be loved and live. 

(Cf . Sophocles' ' Antigone,' 819-23.) There is perhaps one 
" weak Homeric echo " in ' Pauline,' if the lotus-eaters are 
glimpsed at in the lines 

And one isle harboured a sea-beaten ship, 

And the crew wandered in its bowers and plucked 

Its fruits and gave up all their hopes of home. 

But how slight is this compared with the poem of Tenny- 
son, which fairly wrests the subject out of the hands of 
Homer pocta sovrano ! 

In ' Paracelsus,' even such allusions are rarer still, de- 
spite the scholastic atmosphere. The remotest of myths 
is used once, to point a moral Hesiod hardly saw : 

1 G. W. Cooke, ' Browning Guidebook,' p. 288 ; cf. Ovid, ' Metamorphoses,' IV. 672-5. 


"We get so near so very, very near! 
'T is an old tale : Jove strikes the Titans down, 
Not when they set about their mountain piling, 
But when another rock would crown the work. 

Then after a similar glance at the tale of Phaethon 
probably once more betraying Ovid as the source of 
the remembrance the muttering dreamer dismisses the 
thought in the words, "all old tales!" 

The name of Apollo occurs with curious persistency on 
the pages of ' Sordello,' but it seems to be but part of the 
hern's own half-morbid passion for supremacy in las art. 
The definite echoes we can detect are apt to be after Ovid 
or Horace, e. g. : 

Apollo, seemed it now, perverse had thrown 
Quiver and bow away, the lyre alone 

(Cf. Horace, Odes, II. 10, 17-20.) 

But these are mere faint figures of speech at best. With 
how different a hand does Mr. Browning sketch in his 
mediaeval detail, though he does declare that it " was 
purposely of no more importance than a background 


May Boniface be duly damned for this ! 
Howled some old Ghibellin, as up he turned, 
From the wet heap of rubbish where they burned 
His house, a little skull with dazzling teeth. 

Such drawing as this, or the ' Ordering of the Tomb at 
St. Praxed's,' could only be attained by one who had com- 
pletely and lovingly immersed himself in the very spirit 
of that alien age. To most of us the Hellas of the fifth 
or fourth century is infinitely nearer and more intelligible 
than the Lombardy of Eccelino Romano and Azzo of Este. 
If it be asked whether Browning in his prime ever de- 
picted that Hellenic life, ' Cleon ' will probably be men- 
tioned, which was written in 1855. But_npt even Cleon 
himself much less his friend the tyrant is drawn 



from life. The colour, the background, is vivid and 
beautiful, but cannot be localised anywhere. The all-accom- 
plished Cleon, who shapes epics and folk-song, sculptures the 
sun-god and paints the Stoa, writes inventively on music 
and destructively on psychology, even if Greek at all, is so 
utterly a character of the Decadence that he seems almost 
nearer to Michael Angelo than to Phidias. The main les- 
son of the poem, if I grasp its meaning, is that every 
thoughtful pagan was a bewildered pessimist : and this 
doctrine (which I am most reluctant to accept) is enforced 
with arguments as modern as they are subtle, in a style no 
Greek ever wrote, or could have understood. 

4 Balaustion's Adventure ' appeared, as we said, in the 
poet's sixtieth year. It includes a paraphrase, often inter- 
rupted, of nearly the entire 4 Alkestis.' The metre is blank 
verse throughout. Four years later Browning printed a 
second Adventure of Balaustion, called 'Aristophanes' 
Apology,' in which the Euripidean tragedy, ' Heracles 
Mad,' is recited in an episode by the Rhodian girl, but 
without interruption. The choral odes are, moreover, 
rhymed. Finally, two years later still, the ' Agamemnon ' 
of ^Eschylos, commanded, he says, by Thomas Carlyle, 
was published as a translation pure and simple, with 
merely a brief prose preface in which he claims the merit 
of absolute literalness. 

These are our chief landmarks, and they clearly show 
that it was only very gradually and, as it were, accident- 
ally, that Mr. Browning became a translator, even in his 
old age. It is difficult to imagine him assuming patiently 
and for long periods the attitude of a merely passive inter- 
preter, as Longfellow did so contentedly till all the hun- 
dred cantos of the 4 Commedia ' were faithfully Englished, 
line for line. As a matter of fact, the ' Alkestis ' version 
is but part indeed, hardly a third in total amount of 
an eager, subtle, and far-reaching argument, a far deeper 
psychological study than Euripides ever dreamed of ! The 


second poem, 'Aristophanes' Apology,' is four times as 
long as any extant Greek tragedy. 

It was not strange that Browning was attracted to 
Euripides, and felt him to be among all the great ancient 
poets the most modern, or, as Mrs. Browning had called 

The human, with his droppings of warm tears. 

Euripides, like Mr. Browning himself, was a bold inno- 
vator. Both used the dramatic form for materials, and in 
a spirit which their conservative contemporaries angrily 
stigmatised as undramatic. It is indeed difficult to imag- 
ine all the monologues of 'Paracelsus' tolerated at full 
length in any theatre. So Aristophanes ridiculed Eurip- 
ides, particularly ('The Frogs,' passim, especially vss. 
1182-1247), for his long prologues and messengers' 

Still, the Greek poet is almost always, at least, describ- 
ing actions, not merely emotions. Balaustion that is, 
Mr. Browning constantly interrupts the speakers in the 
' Alkestis,' and chiefly to tell, sometimes at great length, 
what they are thinking about. For instance, to the slave 
who has entertained Heracles with such ill grace, seventy 
(extra-Euripidean) lines are devoted, in order to make 
clear why his shallow mind misliked, and failed to recog- 
nise, the hero. 

When we chance to be in full agreement with this addi- 
tional chorus, as we may call it, it is thoroughly enjoyable. 
Thus for every word of contempt poured on the selfish and 
cowardly Admetos, all thanks. Even Professor Moulton's 
persuasiveness can make no hero of him ! On the other 
hand, Mr. Browning has seized upon Heracles as the chief 
heroic figure, and has lavished upon him a wealth and 
splendour of description and eulogy that quite overwhelm 
the slight sketch in the Greek original. This has been 
very fully set forth by Professor Verrall in his recent 


book, ; Euripides the Rationalist.' Whatever Euripides' 
artistic purpose may have been, his title itself points out de- 
cisively the truly central character, the heroine of the play. 
Heracles seems unmistakably a comic figure in great part. 
His voracity and drunkenness help more than aught else 
to explain why this piece was performed fourth in Eurip- 
ides' tetralogy, in the place of the regular farcical after- 
piece with chorus of satyrs, of which the ' Cyclops ' is the 
only extant example. Professor Verrall, indeed, believes 
that the drama as a whole was chiefly planned to destroy 
all belief in the death and resurrection of Alkestis. He 
thinks every intelligent listener perceived, if he did not 
share, the poet's belief that Alkestis merely swooned from 
nervousness under the delusion of a doom appointed her, 
and that Heracles found her recovering as naturally as 

Professor Verrall's ingenious argument will hardly con- 
vince those who, despite all the incongruities and distress- 
ing silences of the little play, have learned, with Milton, 
to love the heroic wife and mother. That we all wish the 
drama somewhat other, or more, than it is, may be frankly 
confessed. Above all, no one would grudge Admetos a 
scene in which he should be reluctantly convinced by his 
queen that it is as clearly his duty to live for his people 
as it is her privilege to die for him. We are unable to 
" supply it from the context," or calmly take it for granted 
as self-evident. 

On the whole, Browning (who is Balaustion) perhaps 
holds a brief for Euripides as compared with his two less- 
criticised brethren. Still, he not only goes on, nominally 
under the Greek poet's inspiration, to sketch out at the 
close his own radically different treatment of the theme, 
in which Alkestis drives the hard but irrevocable bargain 
with Apollo beforehand, without her husband's knowledge ; 
but both here and once before (when the chorus fails to 
show Admetos and his father that they are both alike 


ignoble), it is confessed that Sophocles would have guided 
the action more worthily. 

It may be mentioned here that very near the end of his 
life Mr. Browning composed a sort of Prologue in Heaven 
for the ' Alkestis ' : a dialogue between Apollo and the 
Fates. The Greek element in this poem is not large. 

To sum up, then : Mr. Browning's keen, alert critical 
powers have thrown many a brilliant cross-light on this 
perplexing little drama his descriptions of Death, of 
Heracles, and other passages are splendid creative poetry 
in themselves but it is impossible to accept his version 
of the Greek play as a finality. Indeed his own preference 
would doubtless have been to arouse and interest rather 
than to satisfy a passive circle of disciples. He tells us so 
plainly, taking his own place among 

poets, the one royal race 
That ever was, or will be, in this world ! 
They give no gift that bounds itself and ends 
I' the giving and the taking. 

He bids us all 

share the poet's privilege, 
Bring forth new good, new beauty, from the old. 

There are many little wilfulnesses of expression, largely 
due to an intermittent struggle for absolute literalness ; 
e. g. the first three Greek words, *fi Scalar' 'AS^ret' are 
rendered " O Admeteian domes." Neither the word dome 
nor the plural form can be defended on English soil. 
Indeed there were no domes in Euripides' time, much less 
in Admetos' day. Such a method would make Antigone 
hail her kinswoman in the first verse of Sophocles' master- 
piece : " O common self-sistered Ismene's head " ! But 
Browning, happily, forgets such pedantries, for the most 
part, in the delight of a poet who is interpreting a poet. 

The favourite Browningesque forms "o' the," "!' the," 
etc., are not noticeably frequent in these versions. They 
are no doubt due largely to the overcrowding of Brown- 


ing's own lines with weighted thought, and this pressure 
is naturally less felt in translation. Moreover, though no 
chronological study of the appearance and growth of this 
trick in Browning's style is known to me, I have always 
supposed that it developed not under Greek but Italian 
influence, and was an effort to emulate the tempting del, 
al, dal, etc. : " del bel paese dove il si suona." See espe- 
cially the ' Stornelli ' in ' Fra Lippo Lippi ' : " Flower o' 
the broom," " Flower o' the clove," etc. 

Browning's transliteration of Greek names caused much 
angry and excited discussion. Few even among professional 
scholars, in work intended only for learned readers, have 
ever gone so far toward literalness. His ending -os and -on, 
-oi and -ai, his persistent use of k, even where c would 
have the same sound, all this gained few adherents and 
of those few some have gradually back-slidden into the 
more familiar forms. (" And in that number am I found, 
myself," as Dante's Virgil puts it!) 

Two points only I will make in passing. First, any 
word once well known and fixed in English literature 
escapes from the power of scholars to mar or to correct. 
Aigospotamoi may be, perhaps, successfully taught to 
another generation, but Athenai for Athens, never. 

And, secondly, Browning's rejection of ?/, and substitu- 
tion of u, in words like Pnyx, Thucydides, ^Eschylus, etc., 
is a sin against the very accuracy he sought. The Greeks 
used at will, for this one vowel, two forms, quite like our 
V and Y. The simpler V only was taken over in the 
early Roman alphabet, and eventually differentiated into 
our V and U. In Homeric Greek it probably had every- 
where the sound of oo in moon. In Roman speech that 
value for U has remained unaltered down to the present 
moment. But in Greek this vowel later underwent exactly 
the same modification as in French (or as the 'u with 
umlaut ' in German). In order to represent this modified 
or ' broken ' Greek U accurately in transliterating Greek 


names and for no other purpose whatsoever the Romans 
borrowed ' upsilon ' a second time, with the form Y. The 
Greek name and value are still retained hi various modern 
languages. This ' breaking ' of U did not extend to the 
Greek diphthongs OT, AT, ET. Indeed, OT assumed in 
Attic Greek, and has kept ever since, the original or ' un- 
broken ' phonetic value of early T. 

So, when Cicero transliterated OTKTAIAH2 as Thucy- 
dides, he represented every sound of the Greek word with 
painful accuracy. Browning writes llwukudides. The k 
can be defended, since we would no longer give c the 
sound intended. The unlovely ou in the first syllable does 
no harm, unless it mislead any to pronounce as in tJwu. 
But the u in the second syllable certainly suggests the 
sound of could, or else of cud, which is much farther from 
the truth (kiid) than is our kid (or Cid). But enough, surely, 
of such philological quiddities ! The little I had to offer 
of carping criticism on details is intentionally disposed of 
thus early, that our discussion of Browning's later work 
may proceed upon larger lines. 

The criticisms, good and bad, upon his ' Balaustion ' evi- 
dently drove Browning to a far more exhaustive study of 
the entire field covered by Greek drama. ' Aristophanes' 
Apology' (1875) is a remarkably learned work, which 
' Balaustion ' (1871) is not. Already in ' Fifine ' (published 
in 1872) we find a line (= * Prometheus,' 116), and again 
a phrase (from 'Prometheus,' 518), out of JEschylos' 
' Prometheus ' quoted dragged in, good sooth in Eng- 
lish letters ! The myth followed by Euripides in his 
' Helen ' (that only a phantom of the famous beauty was 
carried away by Paris and fought for so long) is beautifully 
told for its own sake, again, rather than for any espe- 
cial appropriateness in the course of the same most un- 
Hellenic poem. 1 Other similar indications in verse written 
during this Olympic period 1871-1875 could be named. 

1 This turn of the Helen-myth is traced to Stesichoros. See Plato, ' Phaedrus,' 243 A. 


All "this learning is," however, as Mr. Symonds has 
well said (Academy, April 17, 1875), " lightly borne " in 
the ' Apology.' It is indeed all built, by a great construc- 
tive and imaginative poet, into a grand dramatic scene. 
The first adventure of Balaustion, in the Syracusan harbour, 
was a beautiful invention, and the thousands of pallid-faced 
Athenian captives, the wreck of that glorious expedition 
which had left Athens stripped of wealth and men, formed 
a background at once tragic and historical. Infinitely 
more impressive, however, is this later dialogue, when the 
Long Walls themselves seem already tottering, and the 
fleet of Lysander hovers like a black shadow in the offing. 
This gives a bitter mockery to Aristophanes' words of 
braggadocio, when he claims that his comedies have led 
the Athenians to accept wisely the blessings of honourable 
peace : - 

Such was my purpose : it succeeds, I say ! 
Have not we beaten Kallikratidas ? 
Not humbled Sparta ? Peace awaits our word. 
My after-counsels scarce need fear repulse. 
Athenai, taught prosperity has wings, 
Cages the glad recapture. 

Demos . . . sways and sits 
Monarch of Hellas ! Ay, and sage again, 
No longer jeopardises chieftainship. 

From such dreams the awakening was to be bitter indeed ! 

That Browning is, in this great scene, just to Aris- 
tophanes, whom he hates, and only just to Euripides, whom 
he reveres, few will contend. Indeed, many untimely con- 
cessions and self-contradicting boasts are put into the 
half-drunken comedian's mouth, which too often remind us 
that he who works the wires detests his puppet. (For 
those who quail at the entire dialogue, a briefer test of the 
treatment accorded to Aristophanes may be seen in the 
outline Balaustion gives of his masterpiece, ' The Frogs.') 

Still, the scene is nobly and imaginatively planned and 
executed. Let us recall it in brief outline. The tidings 


of Euripides' death, and the aged Sophocles' entrance with 
the command that his own next chorus shall appear in 
mourning for his rival, have interrupted the festive supper 
with which Aristophanes and his crew celebrate the suc- 
cess of his comedy, the ' Thesmophoriazousai,' wherein the 
great departed poet himself had been " monkeyed to heart's 
content that morning." Half sobered to regret, and half 
defiant, the master of the revels now leads his troop to 
storm the hospitable doors of Rhodian Balaustion and 
her Phocian husband, the two known even in Athens as 
Euripides' stanchest admirers. Here, deserted by his 
timid band, Aristophanes alone withstands the wonder- 
ing eyes of 

Statuesque Balaustion pedestalled 
On much disapprobation, 

and makes defence, rather than apology, for his art. 

Perhaps it is irreverent to desire that the gifts of gods, 
or Titans, were other than they are. Else we would dare 
wish Browning had actually given us here a dramatic form, 
if only, as ' In a Balcony,' without change of scene ; and 
we will add, yet more audaciously, something of Hellenic 
restraint and limitation would not have injured it. One 
of Aristophanes' speeches is longer than the whole Greek 
drama of ' Alkestis,' and Balaustion's reply a young ma- 
tron's to a midnight reveller quite equals the entire 
dialogue of the same Greek play, apart from the choral 
songs. Into a really dramatic Apology such as is here 
imagined, the version of an entire Greek tragedy could 
hardly have been thrust ; but at least the fine choral ode 
in the ' Heracles Mad,' glancing at all the hero's chief 
exploits, might still have been utilised quite as effectively 
as is, in the actual poem of Browning, the beautiful frag- 
ment from the ' Kresphontes,' qn the blessedness of peace. 

Much of the whole argument in ' Aristophanes' Apology ' 
is so abstruse, so rapid, so allusive, that it needs more 
comment and elucidation than any Hellenic tragedy or 


Pindaric ode. Such a comment it should some day have, 
for here, in rugged verse, is much of the best literary criti- 
cism Greek drama has ever received. Thus three lines 
sum up Euripides' main purpose better than Mr. Verrall's 
heavy volume : 

Because Euripides shrank not to teach, 
If gods be strong and wicked, man, though weak, 
May prove their match by willing to be good. 

The action of the Athenians, in fining Phrynichos for re- 
minding them in drama of their own folly and of recent 
loss, has waited twenty-four centuries for this couplet 
to give the coup de grcLce : 

Ah my poor people, whose prompt remedy 
Was fine the poet, not reform thyself ! 

Yet this poem as a whole, a mine of wealth to scholars, 
full of thrilling inspiration to the poetic soul, is, I fully 
believe, a sealed book, a hopelessly bolted gate, to the 
average reader. He must answer " No " when Browning 

asks : 

May not looks be told, 

Gesture made speech, and speech so amplified 
That words find bloodwarmth which, coldwrit, they lose ? 

Still, the classical student may well keep the volume open 
upon his drawing-room table, with scores of the lines 
marked for the stranger's casual eye to catch upon. When 
was the death of the triumphant artist ever so nobly 
announced ? 

" Speak good words ! " Much misgiving faltered I. 
" Good words, the best, Balaustion ! He is crowned, 
Gone with his Attic ivy home to feast, 
Since Aischulos required companionship. 
Pour a libation for Euripides ! " 

Even the hint of Shakespeare, if it is he, as the future 
master who shall combine all the chords of tragedy and 
comedy, is not too broad, and does no violence to the 
probabilities. Indeed, Plato's ' Symposium ' culminates 
(223 D) in nearly the same thought. 


The consummate stroke of genius, in building up this 
plot, was the identification of Balaustion's husband with 
that unnamed Phocian who, as Plutarch says (' Life of 
Lysander,' XV), saved helpless Athens by aptly quoting, 
in the angry council of her victors, a passage from Eurip- 
ides' ' Electra.' J This makes a magnificent response of 
destiny to Aristophanes' freshly-remembered boast. Not 
he, but dead Euripides, through the lips of his two faithful 
adherents, snatches for Athens the only peace and rest she 
can possibly obtain in her utter failure and wreck. 

Of course, with all its accurate and wide-gathered learn- 
ing, ' Aristophanes' Apology ' is not precisely a safe source 
qf_information on the detailed history of Attic drama. 
Most of Aristophanes' words are deliberately distorted 
from the truth as Browning sees it. The counter-argu- 
ment is sometimes only less partial in the other direction. 
Of actual slips, or even Homeric nods, on Browning's part, 
very few have been noted ; but certainly not 

Once and only once, trod stage, 
Sang and touched lyre in person, in his youth, 
Our Sophokles, youth, beauty, dedicate 
To Thamuris who named the Tragedy. 

That story of Sophocles' dramatic appearance is well au- 
thenticated, but no better than another, which interests me 
far more. He appeared 2 also in ' Nausicaa, or the Wash- 
ers,' and won great applause by his skilful dancing and 
ball-play in the character of Nausicaa herself ! That 
this also was in his beardless youth is more than probable. 
Again, it is asserted that Euripides " doled out " but five 
satyr-dramas. Seven or eight were extant in Alexandrian 
times, and there is no reason to think he ever omitted the 
comic afterpiece, unless the ' Alkestis ' be accounted such 
an exception. Browning apparently overlooked the fact 
that comparatively few satyr-dramas were preserved even 

166-67. The rendering is very free. 
s Vide Nauck, ' Frag. Trag. Grsec,' * p. 228. 


in Aristarchus' day. Perhaps there was not in every case 
a literary text -at all. 

Between the ' Alkestis,' as incrusted in the early Balaus- 
tion poem, and the ' Heracles Mad,' which the young Rho- 
dian matron (against all the probabilities) now recites 
entire to the unwearied reveller before the long, sleepless 
night is over the link between these two translations, I 
say, is found in these words : 

The sweet and strange Alkestis, which saved me, 

. . . ends nowise, to my mind, 
In pardon of Admetos. Hearts are fain 
To follow cheerful weary Herakles 
Striding away from the huge gratitude, 
Bound on the next new labour " height o'er height 
Ever surmounting destiny's decree ! " 
Thither He helps us : that 's the story's end ! 

For myself, I still believe Euripides named his drama 
aright, the 4 Alkestis.' In order to create there an ade- 
quate hero, Browning has put into his own poem of 
'Balaustion,' as Mr. Verrall clearly points out, several 
magnificent descriptions of Heracles, digressions upon his 
heroism and his exploits in short, an overwhelming mass 
of material which only a poet can find between the lines 
of Euripides' brief and slight melodrama. With that 
method of viewing the ' Alkestis ' he is here imperially 

The 'Heracles Mad,' too, answers better to such an 
introduction as this than any other extant tragedy would 
have done ; but by no means perfectly though Balaustion 
calls it " the perfect piece," as she begins the recital. It 
is, indeed, largely filled with the praises of Heracles. The 
first half, however, describing his return from Hades, 
prompt rescue of his wife and children, and vengeance on 
the murderous King Lycos, would have been more effective 
than the whole. 

When Frenzy, led thither reluctant by Iris at Hero's 
bidding, comes, in the moment of his triumph, and turns 


the hero's hand against those very sons whose lives he has 
just saved it is hard to see any sequence in such a plot. 
Not only are these gods " strong and wicked," but the 
poet here as elsewhere seems really to have a secondary 
purpose, namely, to raise a doubt whether such gods can 
really exist at all. We join in Heracles' cry : 

Who would pray 

To such a goddess ? that begrudging Zeus 
Because he loved a woman, ruins me, 
Lover of Hellas, faultless of the wrong ! 

If Browning felt, in Euripides' art, any such subtle 
double purpose the agnostic philosopher staying the 
dramatist's hand it would only attract the more the most 
subtle of all poets. That such casuistry is effectively 
dramatic, however, will hardly be maintained. This most 
powerful, perverse, and perplexing tragedy, ' Heracles 
Mad,' Browning has rendered with unflinching literalness. 
Where Mr. Coleridge, in his excellent prose version, di- 
lutes Heracles' line upon the ingratitude of the Thebans 
whom he had saved of old : 

into, " Do they make so light of my hard warring with 
theJVIinyse ? " Browning gives us the coarse, rugged truth : 
" The Minuae-wars I waged they spat forth these ? " 
Sometimes this very literalness in words leads the reader 
far astray, as when mention of " skipping beyond the 
Atlantic bounds " occurs in the Greek text and is echoed 
without comment. 

The choral songs are translated in rhymed verses of 
various lengths and irregular sequences, with no attempt 
to preserve any Greek movement not even the pairing 
of stanzas in strophe and antistrophe. In these rhymed 
passages, of course, absolute literalness cannot be demanded, 
nor attained. Yet Browning, who in easy mastery of 
rhyme is perhaps the superior even of Ruckert, often 


achieves the impossible. The little detail he has added is 
rarely modern or in any way un-Hellenic. Indeed, the 
minute faithfulness and self-suppression of this task must 
have .been most irksome to a nature so alert and self- 
moved. If, as before, he felt that Sophocles, or himself, 
could have carried the plot to a fitter issue, it is nowhere 
indicated, nor glanced at by a word. Even when the long 
recitation is done, Aristophanes himself, advocatus diaboli 
though he is, hardly hints at any flaw in " the perfect 

We are, however, conscious that Browning, or his lovely 
Balaustion, holds no brief, this time, upon the whole, for 
Euripides alone, but rather for the great tragic trio among 
whom death has just made all rivalry impossible ; or, again, 
for the nobler, serious art, against lawlessness, obscenity, 
mere catering to the vulgar taste, as personified (not with 
impartial justice) in the greatest comic poet of all time, 
Aristophanes. Though the first quotation that occurs, 
early, in the ' Apology ' is from the Euripidean ' Hera- 
clidse,' it is hardly approved by the speaker. 1 A few lines 
later a splendid figure reminds us naturally of JEschylus' 
greatest trilogy : 

Memories asleep, as, at the altar foot, 
Those Furies in the Oresteian song. 

And presently we have the masters of tragedy all 

worthily grouped : 


What hinders that we treat this tragic theme 
As the Three taught when either woke some woe, 
How Klutaimnestra hated, what the pride 
Of lokaste, why Medeia clove 
Nature asunder 

1 Or didst thou sigh 

Rightly with thy Makaria ? " After life, 
Better no sentiency than turbulence ; 
Death cures the low contention." Be it so I 
Yet progress means contention, to my mind. 

This seems to give the essence of Macaria's last words. Cf. Eurip. ' Heracles,' vss. 591- 
96 ; but the version is a very free one ! 


The choice of three impious women as types may merely 
indicate how much there was in common, after all, in the 
three masters. 

We should hardly be surprised, then, that the next essay 
in translation was from ^Eschylus. To Sophocles, as the 
calm, steadfast master of an art that seems as effortless 
as Raphael's, Browning would, it will doubtless be agreed, 
be naturally less attracted. In ^Eschylus, as in Euripides, 
there is felt the fierce strife of a transitional age. He is, 
however, the spokesman of a triumphant generation, the 
singer of that Salaminian victory which, more than almost 
any other battle, might well seem to have been miracu- 
lously decided by divine interposition. Right is supreme, 
in all his dramas. Even the wild Oresteian trilogy, 
seen as a whole, ends in reconcilement and peace at last. 
Browning's 'Agamemnon' is therefore truly but a frag- 
ment, as is the Prometheus play, which alone remains 
extant. Each is but the first third of a three -act 

For this and many other reasons, the ' Heracles,' not the 
later 'Agamemnon,' seems to me Browning's completest 
success in translation. In the case of foreign poems so 
elaborate both in thought and in metrical structure as 
is any Greek tragedy, there are two widely divergent 
roads open to the translator. Professor Jebb's and Mr. 
Fitzgerald's treatment, respectively, of the CEdipus plays 
will best illustrate both. Professor Jebb, in masterly prose, 
expresses every shade of the thought which close literal- 
ness or freer paraphrase, according as need and idiom 
serve, can reproduce in English at all. For the metrical 
form, however, we must depend wholly upon the Greek 
text, which Mr. Jebb gives us in parallel pages. Mr. 
Fitzgerald, unsurpassed master of rhythm and phrase, has 
built up a single splendid poem on the general lines of the 
Greek CEdipus tragedies, fusing the two, re-arranging, 
suppressing, even adding a word, a verse, an entire ode, 


whenever his artistic sense has demanded it. Neither, of 
course, is Sophocles' very soul or body. Still, each of 
these two translators has set up a high yet attainable goal 
and has measurably attained it. 

Browning twice attempted, like the Colossus that he 
was, to bestride that wide divergence between the two 
methods. He undertakes to be absolutely literal and 
yet to make each line poetical, each choral ode a rhythmic, 
rhymed, ornate English poem. Absolute success was un- 
attainable. No language is so elastic as to bear that strain. 
The result in the 'Heracles' is, however, a marvellous 
approach to the Greek thought, and, at the same time, a 
form which, while quite unlike the Greek, is for the most 
part poetical, graceful, and natural. 

As to the 'Agamemnon,' I wish to speak most seriously 
and with fullest humility. There is a great deal in the 
Greek play I never understood. A few passages I used 
to have irreverent doubts whether even the professor, even 
the poet himself, could fathom ! But there really are also 
a great many lines where I can only construe and compre- 
hend Browning's rugged verse when I have the Greek 
before me to interpret it. (When this paper was first 
read, as a lecture before the Boston Browning Society, 
this last statement was heartily echoed by the best-known 
schoolmaster in America.) 

In other words: JEschylus' thought, above all in this 
drama, is tenser, swifter, loftier far than Euripides' could 
ever be. His language and rhythmic movement, on the 
other hand, are also incomparably more rapid, remote, and 
difficult than anything the later poet has left us. When 
Browning attempts to render these most difficult ^Eschylean 
choral songs in English verse, and rhymed verse, and at the 
same time to be ruggedly, solemnly, absolutely literal, the 
result is too often but the disjecta membra of articulate 
speech and connected thought. 

Let us take a passage almost at random : 


Only have care lest grudge of any gods disturb 

With cloud the unsullied shiue of that great force, the curb 

Of Troia, struck with damp 

Beforehand in the camp ! 

For euvyingly is 

The maiden Artemis 

Toward her father's flying hounds this house 

The sacrificers of the piteous 

And cowering beast. 

With all reverence for the subtlest thinker and the most 
ingenious rhymer who has used our English speech, I sub- 
mit that this is not intelligible to any English reader ; it 
does not even construe (no one can parse envyingly) ; and 
rhymes like is with Artemis, house with piteous, are no true 
ornament. The latter, indeed, almost rivals our gentle 
Emerson's bold rhyme of bear with woodpecker ! In the 
Greek original this is a loftily poetical passage. The com- 
parison of the Atridse to a pair of eagles, the winged 
hounds of Zeus (Agamemnon, 49-54), is one of the lordli- 
est in all poetry, and must have made Pindar hail a kin- 
dred spirit if he had not descried him long before be- 
yond the hostile Attic border. But 

We must, I think, inscribe upon this powerful, and often 
splendid, piece of translation the epitaph of Phaethon 
(Ovid, Met. II. 327-28). 

In any case, the ' Agamemnon ' should not be studied 
or read alone, but always with the ' Choephoroi ' and 
' Eumenides.' If the splendours of Morshead's ' House 
of Atreus ' make too vivid an impression of horror upon 
the imagination, the version of Miss Anna Swanwick, 
while tamer, is at the same time closer in detail to the 
Greek text. 

Perhaps a word will be expected upon the poem called 
' Numpholeptos.' The title is certainly Greek, and means, 
just as Browning says, " rapt by a nymph ; " but beyond 
that there is not a single word in Browning's explanation, 



nor even in the poem itself, that stoops to the level of our 
comprehension. Rather than close with that humiliating 
confession, let us add a word upon the latest Hellenic 
poem of Browning. 

' Pheidippides ' is in no sense a translation. The en- 
counter of the gallant runner and the great god Pan is 
one of the many marvels with which Herodotus embroiders 
the story of the Persian Wars (Herodotus, VI. 105-6). 
The latter end of the tale is, however (as Mr. Cooke's 
most helpful handbook states), a modern invention, though 
the notion that an early heroic death is the gods' greatest 
boon is also Herodotean. 1 The metre of this poem inter- 
ests me, for it appears to be Browning's suggestion for a 
rhymed approximation to the hexameter. 

" Halt Pheidippides ! " halt I did, my brain of a whirl : 
"Hither to me! Why pale in my presence ? " he gracious began. 
" How is it, Athens only in Hellas holds me aloof ? " 

These lines lack only a final syllable each to be remark- 
ably perfect heroic verse. 

Let us end with a word of good omen, which the master 
uttered of his hero, and we may say in turn of him, in all 
confidence and trust 

So is Pheidippides happy for ever, the noble strong man. 

Browning was too noble, too strong, too fully alive, ever 
to be merely a servile translator. His great experiments 
in this field have shed a flood of light on the theory and 
the art of translation. One of these experiments, the 
'Heracles,' may long remain the best single version in 
English of a masterly Greek drama. His original writ- 
ing upon classical subjects above all the 'Apology' is 
even more instructive, and deeply learned as well. But the 
creative genius of Browning himself is as remote as could 

1 See e. g. the famous tale of Cleobis and Biton, Herodotus, I. 31. 


well be from classicism. Upon the most perfect master- 
pieces of Hellenic poetry the 'Odyssey,' the 'Antigone.' 
the 'Odes' of Pindar -he has hardly uttered a word. 
They may have moved him no more than the Parthenon 
whether as a glorious ruin to-day or in all its original 
splendour would have moved the artist who had put his 
whole soul into the groined arches, the clustered statues, 
the heaven-scaling spires of a Gothic cathedral. 



[Read before the Boston Browning Society, January 28, 1896.] 

IT has been said by some of Browning's admirers that 
he was the Homer of this generation. I assume that such 
admirers were discriminating persons who had a meaning 
beyond idle panegyric ; and in view of the purpose of this 
Society to consider Browning the present year in connec- 
tion with Greek literature and art, it has seemed to the 
essayist that an hour might profitably be spent in deter- 
mining the sense, if any, in which such a generalization is 

If such statement be understood to mean that Browning 
is the supreme poet of this generation, I have intimated 
that I do not deem it worth discussing. Different preachers, 
painters, and poets appeal to different orders of mind ; and 
one will strike a sympathetic chord in certain hearts where 
the others fail. Tennyson and Browning are now lying 
side by side in Westminster Abbey, and near them are 
memorials of Longfellow and Lowell, all men who, Prome- 
theus-like, brought fire from heaven wherewithal to com- 
municate to us commonplace mortals something of light 
and warmth. The relative greatness of such men is a 
matter of no great moment, and comparisons are liable to 
be odious. It is the secret of such men's power, their 
methods and aims, their way of looking at things and 
stating them, whereof investigation and discussion is 


Again, Homer holds a certain place in literature that is 
unapproachable. As Horace says of Jupiter, " No other is 
equal, or second to him." I do not mean this in an artistic 
sense, although Homer's genius is so consummate that he 
has been the despair of imitators and of translators for the 
last three thousand years, but refer to certain special rea- 
sons why he holds a place in the imagination of mankind 
that is altogether unique. 

First: the works that bear his name are the earliest 
extant compositions that can fairly be called literature ; 
and are of peculiar interest to us, as they give the first 
vivid picture of our own, the Aryan Race. The Penta- 
teuch, which represents Semitic thought, if written by 
Moses, may possibly be older, though even that is ques- 
tionable. If the Pentateuch was put in its present form 
after the captivity, which many enlightened heretics of 
to-day maintain, it is later than Homer by several 

Secondly : Homer has a certain greatness which places 
him beyond ordinary comparison, owing to his direct and 
indirect influence on human thought. I refer to his direct 
influence on the Greek race, and ^his indirect influence 
through that race on all subsequent peoples. Neither fact 
can well be stated too strongly. The probable date of 
Homer who, for the purposes of this paper, I assume was 
a real person may be stated roughly as 1200 B. c. Mr. 
Gladstone places him more than a century earlier. Homer's 
works were first carefully edited in the reign of Pisistratus, 
about 600 B. c. During a large portion of the interval 
between those dates, it is probable the poems were pre- 
served only in the memory of rhapsodists, or public reciters, 
a tribute to the vitality and the popular estimate of 
these extraordinary compositions which can hardly be 
overstated. In fact, Homer's works, not only during the 
pre-hisix>ric period, but ever after as long as Greek was a 
living language, were to his countrymen a sort of Bible, a 


book of books, an authority on matters of religion, his- 
tory, conduct, and even philosophy, a standard of taste not 
only in poetry, but in rhetoric and oratory, and a textbook 
in the schools as the foundation of all learning. As late 
as Plato's time it appears that there were gentlemen at 
Athens who could repeat his entire works from memory ; 
and Plutarch, in the second century of the Christian era, 
tells of the evening meetings of himself and friends to dis- 
cuss Homeric questions. The frequency with which his 
lines are quoted indicate that the Greek public all through 
their history were more familiar with Homer than most of 
us are with our own Bible ; and attempts were made to 
gloss over what did not accord with the ethics of a later 
age, and to give mystical interpretations of his sayings, not 
unlike what we see to-day in reference to the Bible. The 
Greek drama was largely founded on Homeric myths, and 
its best sculpture was an attempt to represent his gods and 

As Homer thus dominated Greek thought, Greece has 
dominated the thought of the world. The whole of Greece, 
including its islands, has an area of less than one third 
that of New England, and its intellectual life centred in 
Athens, a city which in its proudest estate was smaller 
both in extent and population than Boston ; yet that little 
country produced the greatest poets, tragedians, comedians, 
historians, philosophers, sculptors, and orators the world 
has ever known ; and nearly all belonged to Athens, and 
flourished within a period of four hundred years. And 
not only has Greece given us our philosophy, and our 
standards in literature and art, but has had a vast influ- 
ence on our religion by furnishing not only the language, 
but much of the thought of the New Testament and of the 
early Christian Fathers. 

Again, Homer stands apart from the -poets of to-day in 
that he represents a style of composition that the world 
has outgrown. Perhaps there is no less heroism now than 


formerly, but we talk less about it. Homer's ' Iliad ' and 
Browning's ' Ring and the Book ' are on their face both 
founded on certain infelicities of married life. Browning's 
treatment of the subject is mainly limited to its ethical, 
social, and personal aspects. All this to Homer is of 
secondary importance, but instead he weaves the story into 
a great national theme that involves the fate of cities and 
the interference of the gods. In fact, Homer uncon- 
sciously took a subject the interest whereof has not failed 
even yet. The Trojan War doubtless has some historic 
basis, and was but the beginning of a series of conflicts, 
ostensibly for other causes, but really involving the ques- 
tion whether the Eastern or Western civilisation should 
prevail on the Continent of Europe. The invasion of 
Xerxes, the conquests of Alexander, the great wars between 
Rome and Carthage, between Spain and the Moors, the 
Crusades, the memorable sieges by the Turks of Rhodes 
and Malta, the late Russian war, and even the recent 
Armenian troubles are all parts of the same great drama to 
which Homer's story was but the prelude. Many a time 
has our civilisation stood in extreme peril. The " Eastern 
Question" is a burning question still; and the gaze of the 
world is still turned towards the Hellespont, where Homer's 
heroes began the fight before the dawn of authentic history. 
In order to make an intelligent comparison of Homer 
and Browning, it is obviously necessary to consider Homer 
first. We have no certain knowledge of him as a man, for 
the so-called lives of Homer are valueless ; and, unlike 
Browning, Homer never talked of himself. In six in- 
stances of invocation Homer says " Sing to me, O Muse ; " 
and the Greek word of three letters meaning " to me " is 
absolutely the only allusion he has made to himself; and 
he neither points morals nor expresses personal opinions. 
His works afford the only clue to his character; and from 
them we can but infer that he was quite unlike the con- 
sumptive-looking individual represented by the bust that 


bears his name. Like Browning, he evidently was a man 
of the world, keen-sighted and robust, with a wide expe- 
rience of life in all its phases ; but the vividness of his 
descriptions of camps, hunting-scenes, and keen debates 
leads to the inference that if not himself a man of affairs, 
he had a taste for war, politics, and the activities of life, 
while Browning's works indicate more exclusively a man 
of thought. 


It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that Homer 
was a shallow thinker. The ancients were deficient in 
much that we call knowledge; but there is nothing to 
indicate that the powers of the human mind are greater 
to-day than they were three thousand years ago. But 
while Browning lets us into his mental workshop and 
shbws us the processes of thought, Homer gives us only 
the results of thought. I surmise that his mental processes 
were so rapid that he was scarcely conscious of them, and 
his conclusions seem intuitive. The words of the Homeric 
Age show that in some way a solution had been attempted 
of certain philosophic questions. The great problem in 
philosophy is to ascertain the source or basis of human 
knowledge. Plato represents Socrates on all occasions as 
inquiring how it is that we know things. We have no 
evidence that our Aryan ancestors discussed this question, 
but they had a solution of it. The Greek word meaning 
" to know " is a second perfect of the verb " to see." This 
is not the same as "seeing is knowing," but implies that 
we know because we have seen ; that is to say, our knowl- 
edge is based upon sense perception coupled with reflection. 
This is substantially the foundation principle of Locke's 
great treatise, and of other sensational philosophies, includ- 
ing Herbert Spencer's. The doctrine of the relativity of 
knowledge would naturally follow ; but the ancients were 
saved from this by the belief that the gods were constantly 


putting suggestions into men's minds, so that in fact they 
were transcendentalists. 

To give another instance, volumes have been written 
on the question whether reasoning is possible without the 
use of language, and that problem is discussed and lectured 
upon every year in every great university of the world. 
Homer presents the views of his age on this question in 
the word vJTrios, the classical Greek word for infant, but 
which in Homer three times out of five means fool. It 
literally means " wordless," that is to say, the wordless 
person is the thoughtless person. The Greek words for 
beautiful and ugly have secondary meanings of honorable 
and base, that is to say, ethics is assumed to be a branch of 
aesthetics, an idea quite contrary to our New England 
bringing up. There is a great deal of philosophy in the 
Homeric poems, only it is not stated in abstract proposi- 
tions, but is the unspoken assumption behind concrete 

I will give an instance of Homer's intuitive perception 
of truth, taken from common life, wherein he shows the 
vital evil of slavery in a way Mrs. Stowe did not. Agnes 
Repplier says that after reading ' Uncle Tom's Cabin ' she 
felt the Thirteenth Amendment had been a ghastly mis- 
take ; for " If the result of slavery was to produce a race 
so infinitely superior to common humanity ; if it bred 
strong, capable, self-restrained men like George, beautiful, 
courageous, tender-hearted women like Eliza, visions of 
innocent loveliness like Emmeline, marvels of acute in- 
telligence like Cassey, children of surpassing precocity and 
charm like little Harry, mothers and wives of patient, 
simple goodness like Aunt Chloe, and finally, models of 
all known chivalry and virtue like Uncle Tom himself, 
then slavery was the most ennobling institution in the 
world, and we had committed a grievous crime in degrad- 
ing a whole heroic race to our narrower, viler level." 
Now this is more than funny, it is a piece of just and 


acute criticism. Homer had not lost what Ruskin, in the 
art of drawing, calls the " innocency of the eye," and he 
saw that the real evil of slavery was its effect in degrad- 
ing character, and has one of his dramatis personce sum 
it up in the two best lines ever written on the slavery 
question : 

Straightway a slave's doom on a man is fastened 
Far-sighted Zeus takes half his worth away. 

Homer has given us quite distinctly his idea of the 


I will give the original evidence bearing upon this 
point, not that the passages cited are particularly fine, 
but because the subject is interesting, and also to show 
Homer's method of stating abstract truths concretely, and 
as it were incidentally. 

In the ' Iliad ' no bard is mentioned, and there is but 
one allusion to minstrelsy, where the night embassy to 
Achilles to induce him to return to the war find him by 
his camp-fire playing upon a lyre with a silver yoke, and 
singing the glorious deeds of heroes. Several times, how- 
ever, in that poem Homer himself calls upon the Muse for 
information as to facts and names, saying that man's knowl- 
edge of the past is nothing except the Muses aid him. In 
the ' Odyssey ' bards are mentioned on four different occa- 
sions. In the first, Penelope is represented as bursting 
into tears while listening to a song relating the sad return 
of the Greeks from Troyland, and begs the bard to desist, 
while Telemachus gently tells her that the poet has only 
sung the truth, and for that truth Zeus is to blame, not he. 
The second allusion is merely incidental to a marriage 
feast at the house of Menelaus, where as part of the enter- 
tainment a divine bard is singing and accompanying him- 
self upon the lyre. The third is among the Phseacians, 


where the gifts of the bard Demodocus are more fully 
described. Homer says : 

Then a page drew near, leading the beloved minstrel whom 
dearly the Muse loved, but gave him both good and evil. Of 
his eyes she reft him, but gifted him with sweet song. . . . 
And accordingly the Muse impelled him to sing the glorious 
deeds of heroes, even that lay whereof the fame had then 
reached the wide heaven, etc. 

Later, after listening to Demodocus with great emotion, 
Odysseus thus addresses him : 

" Demodocus, thee I praise far beyond all mortal men, 
whether it be the Muse, daughter of Zeus, that taught thee, 
or even Apollo, for right accurately dost thou sing the fate of 
the Achaeans, even all they did and suffered, and all their toil 
just as if thou hadst been present, or heard the tale from an- 
other. Come now, change thy strain, and sing the story of the 
wooden horse . . . and if thou rehearse this aright I will 
straightway declare unto all men how bounteously God hath 
gifted thee with divine song." Thus spake he, and Demodocus 
was moved by the god, and sang. 

Near the end of the ' Odyssey,' where Odysseus is slay- 
ing the suitors, Phemius, who had been their minstrel, 
successfully begs for quarter on the ground of his sacred 
calling, as follows : 

Show mercy on me, Odysseus. On thine own self here- 
after will sorrow come if thou slayest me who am a minstrel, 
and sing before gods and men. For I am inspired, and God 
hath put in my heart all manner of lays. 

From these several passages we see that Homer regarded 
the poet as neither Jborn nor made, but inspired ; and that 
inspiration is plenary, since it is knowledge of facts and 
even the lay itself that God puts in his heart. In his own 
case Homer implies that he sings to men simply what the 


Muse sings to him. I think that both Homer and Brown- 
ing believed that poetry should be didactic. The only 
other singers mentioned by Homer, the Syrens, tempt 
Odysseus to land with the promise of knowledge, assuring 
him that they not only have voices sweet as the honey- 
comb, but know all that has happened and will hereafter 
happen on the fruitful earth ; and that after listening to 
them he will go away a wiser man. Homer nowhere sug- 
gests that poets sing for fame, or for any other motive 
than simply to obey a divine impulse, and express the 
lays with which Heaven has filled their hearts. 

While not accepting fully Homer's theory, there is no 
doubt that he expresses his honest conviction, and that the 
form and substance of his poetry presented itself to his 
mind so vividly, and the impulse toward expression was so 
overmastering that he believed the gods spoke through 
him. If Homer had resolved not to be a poet I think he 
would have failed to keep his resolution. I do not feel 
the same certainty as to Browning. What little he says 
of poets and poetry is on a different plane from Homer's. 
He early in life resolved to be a poet, and the world has 
reason to be glad of it ; but perhaps he might have found 
adequate means of expression other than verse. He was 
certain to be a transcendentalist in some direction, but it 
seems to me, if not a transcendental philosopher or theo- 
logian like Hegel or Swedenborg, he might have been a 
transcendental painter or musician like Turner or Wagner. 
Like Browning, all those men spoke a language which the 
world in general could not comprehend, but which to a 
select few was intelligible and priceless. Perhaps better 
judges will not assent to this view as to Browning's trans- 
cendentalism ; but it appears to me that his whole nature 
was intuitional, and that he did violence to that nature in 
yielding an intellectual assent to the philosophies of his 
day ; that his reasoning is made up of two things which 
cannot be united, the intuitional and the positive ; that 


the poet above all men should be intuitional ; that Brown- 
ing's, achievements are due to prodigious powers of mind, 
and that he was hampered by forcing his mind to work by 
methods that to him were unnatural. 


So perfect in form are the Homeric poems that we can 
almost believe the Muses composed them and put them in 
his heart as completed lays. 

His style has best been described in an essay by Matthew 
Arnold, who says that Homer both in thought and move- 
ment is always rapid, in thought and diction always 
simple ; that he is always direct, and always noble. 
Measuring Homer's translators by this standard Arnold 
justly condemns them all ; but he admits that even a fairly 
good English translation to suit all those requirements is 
well-nigh impossible. English poetry, particularly rhymed 
poetry, is inconsistent with simplicity and directness. 
The danger of attempting to preserve Homer's nobleness, 
particularly in that plain narrative which must often occur 
in epic poetry, is that it will degenerate into bombast, a 
thing which Homer has the supreme gift to avoid and yet 
preserve the grand style. Every sentence is as simple and 
direct as prose, with every word in the right place to pre- 
serve the proper emphasis, and yet is in exquisite poetic 
form, and in a most exacting metre. No prose translation 
can do Homer any kind of justice ; and yet, I think, all 
things considered, the prose translations of him are the 
best. What in Homer impresses a reader most profoundly 
is a certain sense of mastery, an absolute spontaneity 
both of thought and expression, so that nothing appears to 
have been worked up or inserted for the purpose of pre- 
serving some other telling phrase or sentence. The like 
cannot be said even of so great an English masterpiece as 
Gray's ' Elegy.' 


The lines 

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air, 

are remembered and quoted by everybody. The two lines 
preceding are seldom quoted, yet they are exquisitely 
wrought. The trouble with them is that they are wrought, 
and wrought with a purpose of harmonising in rhyme, 
metre, and sentiment with the lines I have given, lines 
which were thought of first, which were spontaneous, and 
which the poet wished to preserve in their simple form. 
In Homer everything is spontaneous and in a most simple 
and natural form, or at least appears so. 

One marked result of Homer's style is a wonderful 
clearness of statement, and a vividness in the series of 
pictures with which his pages are full. An English-speak- 
ing person with a fair knowledge of Greek will find Homer 
easier to read than Browning. The following from Brown- 
ing's pen shows his appreciation of the clearness of the 
ancient classics : 

They came to me in my first dawn of life 

Which passed alone with wisest ancient books 

All halo-girt with fancies of my own ; 

And I myself went with the tale a god 

Wandering after beauty, or a giant 

Standing vast in the sunset an old hunter 

Talking with gods, or a high-crested chief 

Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos. 

I tell you, nought has ever been so clear 

As the place, the time, the fashion of those lives : 

I had not seen a work of lofty art, 

Nor woman's beauty, nor sweet nature's face, 

Yet, I say, never morn broke clear as those 

On the dim clustered isles in the blue sea, 

On deep groves and white temples and wet caves : 

And nothing ever will surprise me now 

Who stood before the naked Swift-footed, 

Who bound my forehead with Proserpine's hair. 

In this passage Browning refers not only to the clearness 
of the ancient authors, but to the clearness of the youthful 


imagination ; but both ideas are pertinent to the matter in 
hand. It is an important part of Homer's art that he leaves 
so much to the imagination, and says just enough to stimu- 
late the imagination. His figures appear upon the stage like 
" a giant standing vast in the sunset," always clear in 
outline, and silhouetted against a brilliant background. I 
mean that is the way Homer leaves them ; but the reader's 
imagination completes the picture till it is clear-cut, almost 
like a cameo. Homer was an impressionist. In so styling 
him I do not refer to his reputed blindness, nor even to the 
recent theory that he was colour-blind, but to the fact that 
he paints his pictures with a few masterly touches that 
convey the general impression desired, without excessive 
use of pigment, and without details. Whenever Helen 
appears we always feel the effect of her bewildering 
beauty, yet Homer never even tells us whether she was large 
or small, a blonde or a brunette, nor gives any specific de- 
scription of face or figure. We are told in different pas- 
sages that she is white-armed, fair-cheeked, long-robed, has 
lovely hair, is a goddess among women, and is like golden 
Aphrodite, and that is all. Every one imagines her accord- 
ing to his personal taste. Probably no two readers have 
precisely the same picture presented to their minds, and it is 
for that very reason that every one gets the general impres- 
sion that Homer intended ; and it is largely for this reason 
that Homer is so great to people of every age and every 
stage of culture, why he is the world's poet, the poet 
not simply of one generation, but of all generations. 


In the matter of style, probably no two great authors 
are more unlike than Homer and Browning. The latter 
is not rapid in movement, simple in thought or diction, 
is not direct, nor always noble. I do not think it is 
Browning's acknowledged thoughtfulness or depth of 


meaning that makes him so difficult to follow, but because 
he is not rapid, simple, or direct. I have heard it claimed 
that Browning is rapid, and that it is his rapidity that pre- 
vents the ordinary mind from keeping pace with him, but 
cannot assent to either view. Homer's rapidity does not 
make him hard to understand. His rapidity is natural, he 
sees his objective point, goes straight for it, and knows 
when he gets there ; whereas Browning's rapidity, such as 
it is, is unnatural, like a man with seven-league boots on, 
whose stride carries him by the objective point, and who 
keeps retracing his steps, commenting, meanwhile, on all 
that he sees from his several points of view. Mrs. Orr, in 
. her ' Life of Browning,' makes a criticism somewhat sim- 
ilar, saying that his neglect in youth of such studies as logic 
and mathematics " led to involutions and overlappings of 
thought and phrase due to his never learning to follow the 
processes of more normally constituted minds." Perhaps 
I can find a better comparison to explain my meaning that 
Browning was not rapid in movement notwithstanding his 
seven-league boots. We all know the difference between the 
air of 'Home, Sweet Home,' and 'Home, Sweet Home, with 
Variations.' In the latter the fingers of the pianist move 
with much greater rapidity than in the former, and many 
more notes and chords are struck in a given time ; but the 
movement of the theme is slow, and great skill is required 
in the rendering to prevent the " variations " from over- 
laying and obscuring the theme. Here, I think, is the 
vice in Browning's style which makes him difficult to fol- 
low, that however simple his theme he involves it in 
complex variations, and thus he is neither simple, nor 
direct, nor (so far as the action is concerned) rapid, and 
the ordinary mind becomes weary and confused before any 
objective point is reached. So much time is required in 
searching for the lost chord that the reader is apt to con- 
clude that there is no such chord, or, at all events, that 
the quest is not for him. With Homer, on the other hand, 


it is the action that is rapid ; and this the mind follows 
with ease. As to his rapidity of form and diction Homer's 
trail-footed translators give the reader no conception. It is 
doubtful if the same effect of rapidity could be produced 
even in the Greek of the classical period, and still less 
in our modern English. It is fair to say, however, that 
in this respect and all other respects, Homer far surpassed 
the authors who were most nearly his contemporaries. 

Browning, speaking through Cleon, in the poem of that 
name, claims that ancient men like Homer, though supreme 
in one direction, are inferior, on the whole, to the modern 
man, who is composite and great in many directions. That 
proposition involves an interesting question which it is not 
within the province of this paper to discuss ; but it con- 
tains an element of truth to which I shall recur later. A 
suggestion even more important he makes elsewhere in 
three or four different poems, that the aim and scope of 
Greek art was finite, was limited to form and feature and 
what pertains to this world, and therefore capable of per- 
fection, while modern art aims at the infinite, at the ex- 
pression of the inner man rather than the outer, and 
accepts imperfection as the necessary price. This raises a 
second great question not to be discussed here, whether 
art should be limited in its purpose with perfection possi- 
ble, or should aim at the unattainable with failure certain. 
Browning chose the latter of these alternatives^ while 
Homer adopted the former, not from choice, but because 
with his philosophy he could not help it. Browning began 
life with the resolve to become a poet and portray the 
growth of the soul ; but Homer did not suppose man had 
a soul in our sense of that word. Man's future life was a 
shadowy, almost unconscious existence, and from it there 
was no escape. The present life, therefore, comprised all 
possible hopes and aspirations for man. Even Homer's 
gods were finite ; and he apparently had no idea that any- 
thing was infinite. Herbert Spencer says we have no such 



idea either, that the infinite is unthinkable ; but Browning 
did not really believe him. From a simply artistic point 
of view, Homer's limitations may have been liis good for- 
tune ; but Browning's daring flights are his great glory, 
even if, like one of Juvenal's contemporaries, he flew 
with dripping wings. 


Perhaps in this connection it will be appropriate to 
speak of the vast difference in the points of view of these 
two authors growing out of difference in religion. The 
accepted religion of an age profoundly influences even the 
irreligious. It is said that Browning was sceptical as to 
the religion of the Bible; yet his works are deemed of 
very special value by theologians and preachers. I shall 
not dwell upon Browning's theology, because that subject is 
to be treated in a special paper by another, later in the year ; 
but will say in passing that in ' Cleon ' he implies that 
some form of revelation is necessary to save man from 
hopelessness as to a future life, and to make the present 
life seem rational. Thus Browning's optimism must have 
been based on some religious faith, though perhaps that 
faith did not run on the precise lines of any accepted creed. 
The Bible teaches that God's power is infinite, and his 
wisdom and goodness past finding out ; and while man is 
free and can go astray, he is also free to redeem himself, 
and a self-conscious immortality is promised. Thus a reli- 
gion of hope is possible. Browning being brought up in 
such an atmosphere, and accepting the general features of 
this belief, had the requisite temperament, and was an 

Homer, on the other hand, is the prince of pessimists 
among great authors. With his theology and his view of 
life and death he could not be otherwise. His gods were 
superhuman, but still were finite ; and their powers were 
used capriciously, sometimes for man's good, but more 


often to betray him. Man was a free agent to a limited 
extent ; but in the main his life was governed by a destiny 
over which he had no control. Homer's gods were much 
less ethical than his men and women ; their favourites were 
the gifted and not the good, and they had neither the 
power nor the disposition to alleviate human misery. Zeus 
is represented as saying that " Of all that liveth and 
moveth upon the earth man is the most wretched ; " and 
Homer so depicts human life. No one of his leading 
characters is happy ; and even among subordinate charac- 
ters, when the curtain is lifted, little appears but sorrow 
and disappointment. The women weeping about the body 
of the dead Patroclus, Homer tells us " ostensibly mourned 
for Patroclus, but really each for her own woes." The 
name " Achilles " has the same root as the English word 
" ache," and the fundamental root of the word " Odysseus " 
means " ill-starred " or " unfortunate." 

Nor was there anything more hopeful in the life to come. 
The shades had just enough self-consciousness to know 
that their existence was joyless. Even the haughty 
Achilles, meeting Odysseus in Hades, says when congratu- 
lated on being a king among the dead, 

Speak not lightly of Death, noble Odysseus. I would 
rather be a hireling on earth, even of a master unportioned and 
ill- to-do, than reign over all the nations of the departed dead. 

Yet to show that a noble man can make a noble use even 
of pessimism, I will quote the following passage from the 
4 Iliad,' where Sarpedon addresses Glaucus when about to 
enter battle: 

Glaucus, wherefore do we twain hold the highest honours, 
seats of honour, and feasts, and full cups in Lycia, and all men 
look on us as sods? Wherefore hold we wide lands of orchard 


and wheat-bearing fields? In return for these things it be- 
hoveth us to take our stand in the forefront of the Lycians and 
face the heat of the battle, that the well-armed Lycians may 


say, " Verily our Kings are not unworthy men, they that eat fat 
sheep and drink the choice, sweet wine ; they also excel in 
valour, and fight in the front ranks of the Lycians." Ah, com- 
rade, if by escaping from this one battle we should for ever be 
ageless and immortal, neither would I, myself, fight in the front 
ranks, nor send thee into man-ennobling battle ; but as it is, 
since ten thousand fates of death on every hand beset us which 
it is not in mortal man to evade or avoid, let us on, and glory 
win or glory give. 

Sarpedon says in substance that if man had anything to 
lose that was of real value he might well hesitate to im- 
peril it, and that on this occasion he probably would skulk 
himself ; but man's lot is hopeless, and therefore during 
his brief day he should fulfil his manhood and the claims 
of duty. There is nothing in Homer of the sentiment 
" Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." He is no 
less pessimistic than Cleon ; he is not a composite man like 
Cleon ; but in his simplicity he takes a much nobler view 
of duty and life. 


I have dwelt at some length upon the points wherein 
Homer and Browning differ, both because the differences 
must be ascertained before we can determine their points 
of resemblance, and also to show that no man of this 
generation, even if he had Homer's genius, could be a 
second Homer. Homer and Browning were men of marked 
individuality, and no other great writer is much like either ; 
but after all, the great difference between Homer and 
Browning, or any other modern poet, is due to differences 
in the ages wherein they lived, differences in civilisation, 
religion, points of view, and the whole manner of life and 
thought. Even the differences in style are not wholly due 
to individuality, but are owing in part to the unlikeness 
between the ancient and the modern world. Homer repre- 
sented an age of great simplicity ; and the thoughts and 


motives of his men and women ran on simple lines so that 
they had neither the complicated virtues nor the compli- 
cated vices of the present day. Simplicity and directness 
of style would follow naturally; while Browning, repre- 
senting a complex age, and deeming himself, as he says 
through Cleon, a composite man, and the greater for his 
compositeness, when he attempted to represent himself and 
his age, was under a certain constraint to adopt a composite 
style of composition. 

These differences suggest a most important resemblance, 
that Homer and Browning were each the poet that best 
represented his age. That this is true of Homer is shown 
by the fact that his poems were preserved while his literary 
contemporaries are unknown, and still better shown by the 
naturalness and encyclopaedic character of the works them- 
selves. They are an epitome of a civilisation that otherwise 
would have been forgotten twenty-five hundred years ago, 
and represent every phase of the life, aspirations, and thought 
of those days. Of what we call knowledge Homer had 
almost nothing. Outside of Greece and Asia Minor the 
world was to him little more than a place of fable and 
enchantment ; there was no scientific thought, and no one 
had the opportunity, even if he had had the disposition, to 
discuss abstruse problems of ethics as metaphysics. Dar- 
win's law is imperative ; and views and ideals of life must 
turn mainly on what is necessary to sustain and preserve 
it. With the Homeric peoples peace and security were 
scarcely dreamed of, and life was a struggle only to be 
preserved by valour, cunning, and endurance. Thus valour, 
cunning, and endurance of necessity became the typical 
virtues of the age, and the hero of the ' Iliad ' represents 
heroic valour, and the hero of the ' Odyssey ' heroic endur- 
ance coupled with cunning. The action, passion, and 
pathos of such a life, the heroic struggle against fate 
and circumstance, were all there was for Homer to 


The necessities of the Homeric environment required 
brawn ; the necessities of to-day require brains. Modern 
life makes demands upon science and political economy, 
on law and ethics, on art and philosophy, at least that 
phase of philosophy which deals with life and living. The 
life of the Homeric Age was an outward life, and could be 
presented in a series of pictures. Modern life is inward, 
and involves a series of problems. The ordinary poet 
lives in dreamland ; but Browning lived in the real world 
and appreciated that this is an age of problems ; and these 
problems he has presented and discussed. This distinctive 
feature of the nineteenth century either was not perceived 
by other poets, or they shrank from the task of represent- 
ing it. Most of the writings of Tennyson and his great 
contemporaries deal with the past, or with subjects and 
ideas that might belong to any age. Even where a modern 
subject is taken, as in Tennyson's ' Princess,' it all seems 
to be in an ideal and not the real world. Browning, on 
the other hand, no matter how far back he goes in time, as 
in ' Paracelsus,' or ' Sordello,' or even ' Cleon,' gives us the 
thoughts and the problems of to-day. Dreamland is one of 
the great powers, and I mean no disrespect for its envoys 
who bring with them fitting credentials ; but on the simple 
question, Which of our great poets best represented the 
spirit of the nineteenth century? I think there is no ques- 
tion that it is Browning. Indeed, I doubt if any prose 
writer would give to a future historian of this century so 
much real insight into its thought as he. Browning also 
perceived that this complex life has developed phases of 
vice and virtue of which Homer never dreamed. This is 
an age of humbug, and Browning has given us Mr. Sludge, 
the Medium. This is an age when scepticism walks up 
the steps into the pulpit, and he gives us Bishop Blougram. 
This is the age of a nobility bankrupt in fortune and in 
character, and he gives us Guido; an age when youth, 
beauty, and money are sold by managing mothers in ex- 


change for a title, and he gives us Pompilia"; yes, and he 
also gives the life led by the victims of such ill-starred 
marriages. It is an age of slang, and Mr. Browning does 
not mind giving us a little expressive slang himself. 
Homer is often eloquent. Mr. Gladstone pronounces the 
speech of Achilles in 'Book IX of the Iliad' the finest 
specimen of eloquence in all literature. Browning seldom 
aims at eloquence, and evidently feels most at home in the 
colloquial style which he adopts so often. 

Concerning the matters wherein Homer and Browning 
are alike in genius and spirit, many resemblances of a 
superficial character may be given. For example, both 
have high ideals of womanhood, and a soul toward the 
sex that is full knightly, though it seems to have occurred 
to neither that political power is essential to woman's true 
dignity or development. Neither are poets of nature; 
though their occasional descriptions of natural scenery 
and phenomena are exquisite. These two points of re- 
semblance, however, suggest another that is fundamental, 
and of the highest consequence : the interest of both is 
centred on men and women, and the reason for it is that 
the spirit of both is in the highest degree dramatic. I 
think all Homeric scholars, if asked what is the most dis- 
tinguishing mark of Homer's genius, what has given his 
works their enduring interest, would without hesitation 
answer that it was his dramatic quality. If, at the time 
when Greek tragedy was at its height, Athenian scholars 
had been asked who was their most dramatic author, they 
would have agreed without dissent that it was Homer. 
jEschylus himself says something to the effect that he 
and his associates simply serve up the crumbs that fell 
from the table of the great master. Out of curiosity, the 
essayist has counted up in several books of the ' Iliad ' 
taken at random the number of lines purporting to be 
spoken by his characters, and finds that they comprise 
from three to four fifths of the whole ; and quotations 


within quotations are constant in Homer as in Browning. 
One special point in Homer's dramatic quality may be 
interesting. I refer to the difficulty of expressing public 
sentiment in dramatic form. Where music is admissible, 
public sentiment may be expressed by a chorus, as in the 
Greek dramatists, and in oratorio. Shakespeare gets over 
the difficulty by conversations between unnamed parties, 
designated, for example, as " first Roman gentleman " and 
"second Roman gentleman." Homer expresses this by 
the use of the indefinite pronoun "riV which means "a 
certain one." That is to say, Homer often sets forth that 
" a certain one " said something " to his neighbour stand- 
ing near," and always means thereby that this "certain 
one " was expressing public opinion. Browning accom- 
plishes the same object in * The Ring and the Book ' by 
representing three different unnamed individuals as giv- 
ing the views of "one half Rome," "the other half of 
Rome," and " tertium quid." Perhaps it was Homer, per- 
haps it was Shakespeare, perhaps it was his native genius 
that suggested this method to Browning. 

On Browning's dramatic spirit it is unnecessary to en- 
large. Everything presented itself to his mind in dramatic 
form, even when stating abstract truths. Poems like 
'Cleon' are thoroughly dramatic. The lines respecting 
Greek statuary, 

They are perfect how else ? They shall never change : 
We are faulty why not? We have time in store, 

are put in the form of question and answer, as if two 
people were in animated discussion. The two authors 
differ in this respect, that Homer is full of action, and 
Browning full of thought ; but the cause of that difference 
I have attempted to explain elsewhere. Thus the most 
distinguishing feature of Homer and Browning the 
feature that gives character and form to their entire works 
is the same ; and in dramatic spirit Browning is indeed 
the Homer of this generation. One of the effects of this 


spirit on Browning appears, I think, in his choice of sub- 
jects. I mean the choice, in his most important works, of 
some old story that is full of inconsistencies, to which he 
undertakes to give unity, either by having it told by dif- 
ferent persons, or some other dramatic artifice. 

One result of this dramatic tendency in both poets is 
a universal sympathy, a broad humanity, which covers all 
sorts and conditions of men, the sinner as well as the saint. 
Both are the poets of sinful man. The case in behalf of 
Guido and Mr. Sludge are strongly put by Browning, and 
Homer is equally fair and eloquent in behalf of Penelope's 
suitors. This sympathy, however, never obscures the 
moral judgment of either Homer or Browning; in fact, 
both are severe in their moral judgments. Browning, 
in ' Ivan Ivanovitch,' tells the story of the mother whose 
children were sacrificed to the wolves in a way to excite 
the deepest sympathy. We take in fully her instinctive 
love of life, her genuine love for her children, and how 
she was benumbed with cold and terror, but after stating 
all this most eloquently, when the peasant without answer- 
ing a word chops off her head with his axe, Browning tells 
us it was the judgment of God. Homer, in like manner, 
shows us all the palliating circumstances affecting the 
suitors of Penelope, and there is no doubt that that ex- 
perienced matron hoodwinked and coquetted with the mis- 
guided young men in a very artful manner; but Homer 
never forgot that they were in the wrong, and when the 
time comes there is no escape from their just doom. 
Odysseus throws off the rags in which he was disguised, 
bends his fatal bow, and the bully among the suitors is 
the first to fall. The hypocrite is allowed to live just 
long enough to make one more hypocritical speech, but 
falls next, and the slaughter is kept up until all have per- 
ished. Homer even follows the suitors beyond this life, 
and tells how their shades were driven by Hermes with 
his magic wand down the mouldering pathway, by the 


White Rocks and the streams of the ocean, beyond the 
gates of the sunset and the land of dreams, to the meadow 
of asphodel where dwell the dead, the phantoms of worn- 
out men; and thus they go "gibbering like bats" to 
Hades, where he leaves them. 

To the question then, whether Browning is the Homer 
of this generation, I think an affirmative answer within 
the limits I have set can fairly be rendered. 

Homer has been the chiefest among poets for three 
thousand years. Browning's lines 

The Artificer's hand is iiot arrested 

With us ; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished : 

They stand for our copy, and, once invested 

With all they can teach, we shall see them abolished, 

are neither truth nor poetry. Neither Greek art nor 
Greek literature will be "abolished" while our civilisa- 
tion lasts. Will Browning's fame be equally enduring? 
That there will be no second Browning in the next three 
thousand years I can easily believe ; but he is at great dis- 
advantage as compared with Homer. Homer's age was 
so simple that he could represent it without what may be 
called " fashion." We know how out-of-date a photograph 
looks in a short time, where clothing or other fashion is 
shown. This is why the nude in art is so important ; and 
there is, so to speak, a certain simple nudity in Homer, so 
that his artistic effects defy time and change. Browning, 
on the other hand, is all fashion, the fashion of a com- 
plex, unsettled, and peculiarly transitional age. We have 
Scripture warrant that the fashion of this world passeth 
away. Browning has never been generally popular, but 
has a great charm and long will have a great charm for 
certain classes of minds ; but it is a question whether three 
thousand years hence his most characteristic works will 
not be valued by the historian and the lover of literary 
curiosities rather than by the lover of poetry. 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, February 25, 1896.] 

FORTUNATELY, my theme does not demand from me a 
critical judgment on Euripides as a dramatic craftsman, 
or a comparison of Euripides with his great predecessor, 
jEschylus, and his equally great contemporary, Sophocles, 
a task for which I have not the necessary qualifications. 
Whatever expression I may give of the opinions of dra- 
matic critics, or of my own estimate of " sad Electra's poet," 
will be incidental to a true report of the opinion of the 
Rhodian maid and wife concerning the poet by whose 
" strangest, saddest, sweetest song " she saved her life in 
the harbour of Syracuse, and whose " choric flower," flung 
in the face of " Spartd's brood," saved Athenai's " maze of 
marble arrogance " from utter destruction when the city lay 
in abject helplessness at the feet of Lysander. 

Balaustion's opinion of Euripides means, of course, 
Browning's opinion of Euripides, at least in so far as 
Browning's opinion finds expression, through Balaustion, 
in the two poems, ' Balaustion's Adventure ' and ' Aristo- 
phanes' Apology.' The large-souled, radiant Greek woman 
is but the vehicle of our poet's thought. She is a pure 
invention, yet so perfect is the invention, and with such 
powerful dramatic art is she set before us, that we find 
ourselves compelled to deal with her as with a living per- 
sonality. Of all the characters in Browning's works none 
is more real, not even Pompilia or Caponsacchi, than this 


" lyric girl." We can see her standing on the steps of the 
Herakleian temple, the sea-breeze lifting the dark masses 
of her abundant hair, her lithe form erect with courage 
and vibrating with noble passion, and her great eyes flash- 
ing out her ardent soul upon her Syracusan audience, as 
she pours forth the story of Alkestis; or, when girl has 
blossomed into woman and maid has ripened into wife, we 
see her again in the home at Athens, with stately dignity 
vindicating her poet against the gibes and half sophistical, 
sometimes wholly brutal, arguments of Aristophanes ; or, 
again, when the doom has fallen and Athens lies stript 
and wasted under the ravaging hand of Lysander, she 
stands with her Euthukles on the deck of the ship that 
bears them 

from not sorrow but despair, 
Not memory but the present and its pang ! 

from poor, ruined Athens to rosy, sea-girt Rhodes. There 
she stands, with "those warm golden eyes," now full of 
inextinguishable sadness, turned backward toward the lost 
glory, and with marks of deep anguish on her fair face ; 
yet by each 

twelve hours' sweep 
Of surge secured from horror, . . . 
Quieted out of weakness into strength. 

It is only by a strong effort of the will that, as we read 
these two poems, we can dissociate our minds from Balaus- 
tion the Greek woman, and listen solely, with critical ear 
alert, to Browning, the modern scholar and critic as well 
as poet, while he discloses to us the judgment of his intel- 
lect as well as of his heart on the last, yet not the least, of 
the three great tragic poets of Greece. 

Since the time of Schlegel and Goethe there has devel- 
oped a new and more sympathetic interest in the study and 
interpretation of Euripides. Quite the noblest and most 
significant expression of that interest appears in these 
two poems, ' Balaustion's Adventure ' and ' Aristophanes' 


Apology.' The first is a beautiful dramatic poem, the 
heart of which is a rendering, in powerful verse, of the 
4 Alkestis.' This rendering, while not a mere translation, 
yet satisfies the critical sense by its faithfulness to the 
essential meaning of the Greek. It is an interpretation 
as well as a translation, for there is occasional interjection 
of explanatory comment, and sometimes the words of the 
chorus appear in paraphrase. We might almost call it 
Euripides cast in the larger mould of Browning. The 
judgment of Mahaffy is that " by far the best translation 
[of the ' Alkestis '] is Mr. Browning's." 

The second is a poem, ensphering also, like the first, a 
play from Euripides. This play, the 'Herakles,' is ren- 
dered with all the force and fidelity that mark the ren- 
dering of the 4 Alkestis,' but with stricter regard for the 
form of the original, and with none of the interpretative 
paraphrase that is so prominent a feature of the preceding 
work. The reason of this is that in ' Balaustion's Adven- 
ture ' the ' Alkestis ' is dramatically told, or recited, to a 
group of girls to whom it is strange, and without any of 
the accessories of the stage ; while in ' Aristophanes' Apol- 
ogy ' the ' Herakles ' is read by Balaustion from the original 
manuscript of Euripides, to an author who knew the writer 
and did not need the interpretative comment which, in 
the former instance, the absence of scenic setting rendered 

In the second case the drama is only an element of the 
larger poem. With less of lyric charm than ' Balaustion's 
Adventure,' 4 Aristophanes' Apology ' is a poem of greater 
scope and power, abounding in lines that "flash with 
the lightning and leap with the live thunder " of the 
maker ; but still more, it is an acute and masterly criti- 
cism of the Greek drama as represented especially by 
Euripides and his brilliant detractor Aristophanes. For 
centures Euripides has suffered from both a prejudiced 
and an uncritical comparison of his work with that of 


./Eschylus and Sophocles. The prejudice with which he 
has been treated has been due mainly to the calumnies 
uttered with persistent iteration and an unscrupulous use 
of coarse caricature by Aristophanes in his Comedies. At 
last the prejudice has yielded to a deeper study, a juster 
and more sympathetic criticism, and a profounder under- 
standing of the phases of Greek life and thought which 
found expression in Euripides. I quote with pleasure the 
statement of Mahaffy that " Mr. Browning has treated the 
controversy between Euripides and Aristophanes with 
more learning and ability than all other critics in his 
' Aristophanes' Apology,' which is, by the way, an Euripi- 
des' Apology also, if such be required in the present day." 
As an expression of Browning's estimate of Euripides, 
' Aristophanes' Apology ' is much more full than ' Balaus- 
tion's Adventure.' In the latter we have an interpretation 
of the great dramatist mainly through one of his plays ; in 
the former we have, besides the interpretation through 
that " perfect piece," the ' Herakles,' a prolonged critical 
discussion in which the various phases of Euripides' genius 
are exhibited as, perhaps, only Browning could exhibit 
them. Though the scope of ' Balaustion's Adventure ' is 
narrower, it affords, so far as it goes, as true an index of 
Browning's appreciation of Euripides as the longer and 
more technical 'Apology.' 

I will now give some account of these two poems, of 
course quite briefly, and in a broadly suggestive rather 
than in a minutely critical way. 

The story of the first poem is this : A girl, whose name 
we know not, but who receives the name " Balaustion," 
" pomegranate flower," because of her lyric gifts and her 
great charms of both mind and person, a native of the 
island of Rhodes, though child of an Athenian mother, 
hears with others in Kameiros of the disaster which has 
befallen Athens in the overwhelming defeat of Nikias and 
Demosthenes at Syracuse. Instantly there is a clamorous 


demand among the people that Rhodes shall abandon her 
alliance with Athens and join the Spartan League, for 
Sparta and Syracuse are allies. While the revolters wait 
for naval help from Knidos, Balaustion gathers a company 
of kindred spirits who are loyal to Athens, 

the life and light 
Of the whole world worth calling world at all ! 

and proceeding to Kaunos, finds a captain who, with like 
loyalty to Athens, consents to take them thither in his 
ship. These, who would 

Rather go die at Athens, lie outstretched 

For feet to trample on, before the gate 

Of Diomedes or the Hippadai, 

Before the temples and among the tombs, 

Than tolerate the grim felicity 

Of harsh Lakonia, 

turned " the glad prow westward," and " soon were out at 
sea." Blown out of course by an adverse Avind, after 
several days they were startled by the appearance of a 

Lokrian, or that bad breed off Thessaly. 

At the same moment they sight land which they suppose 
to be friendly Crete. Despite their efforts the Rhodians 
see the pirates sloAvly but surely gaining on them. Then 
the inspired Balaustion springs upon the altar by the 
mast and sings, 

That song of ours which saved at Salamis, 

a song from the great heart of ^schylus, 

O sons of Greeks, go, set your country free ! 

Electrified by her song, the sailors "churn the black 
water white," and are drawing away from the fell pirates, 
who come " panting up in one more throe and passion of 
pursuit," when suddenly they discover that they have run 
straight upon hostile Syracuse. A galley meets them and 


demands who they are. The captain cautiously answers, 
" Kaunians ; " whereupon they are charged with being 
Athenians or sympathisers with Athens, and are bidden 
back. The fragment of song from ^Eschylus has betrayed 
them. In vain they plead for mercy and deliverance from 
the pirate waiting grimly seaward. Discouraged, they are 
about to turn back to their fate, when some one of the 
Syracusans calls out 

That song was veritable Aischulos, 

. . . How about Euripides ? 
Might you know any of his verses too ? 

Then the weary voyagers remember the tale told of wounded 
and captive Athenians nursed and liberated if they knew 
aught of the new poet, Euripides, which they could recite 
to eager Syracusans. The captain shouts with joy 

Euoi, praise the God ! 
. . . Here she stands, 
Balaustion ! Strangers, greet the lyric girl ! 
Euripides ? . . . 

Why, fast as snow in Thrace, the voyage through, 
Has she been falling thick in flakes of him! 

Now it was some whole passion of a play ; 

Now, peradventure, but a honey-drop 

That slipt its comb i' the chorus. If there rose 

A star, before I could determine steer 

Southward or northward if a cloud surprised 

Heaven, ere I fairly hollaed " Furl the sail ! " 

She had at fingers' end both cloud and star ; 

Some thought that perched there, tame and tunable, 

Fitted with wings; and still, as off it flew, 

" So sang Euripides " she said. . . . 

Sing them a strophe, with the turn-again, 

Down to the verse that ends all, proverb-like, 

And save us, thou Balaustion, bless the name ! 

Balaustion, with her quick woman's wit, proposes that they 
all go ashore, and she, standing on the steps of the temple 
of Herakles, the Syracusans' tutelary god, will recite for 


them a whole new play in which Euripides does honour 
to their god 

That strangest, saddest, sweetest song of his, 

Then, because Greeks are Greeks, and hearts are hearts, 

And poetry is power, they all outbroke 

In a great joyous laughter with much love : 

" Thank Herakles for the good holiday ! 

Make for the harbour ! Row, and let voice ring, 

' In we row, bringing more Euripides ! ' " 

Soon all the city is astir. The multitude pours out " to 
the superb temple," and there, for three successive days, 
Balaustion delights the crowding listeners by repeating 
again and again the 'Alkestis.' Then, having gained 
liberty for herself and her companions, and much praise, 
and withal a lover, Balaustion sets sail once more for 
Athens. The voyage is made in safety, she sees Euripides, 
the master, kisses his hand, tells her story, and content, in 
time, marries the youth, Euthukles, who lost his heart to 
her by the temple steps in Syracuse, and makes her home 
in the city of her love. 

When she recounts the whole story of the adventure 
and its issue to her companions, she pays this tribute to 
her poet : 

Ah, but if you had seen the play itself ! 
They say, my poet failed to get the prize : 
Sophokles got the prize, great name ! They say, 
Sophokles also means to make a piece, 
Model a new Admetos, a new wife : 
Success to him ! One thing has many sides. 
The great name ! But no good supplants a good, 
Nor beauty undoes beauty. Sophokles 
Will carve and carry a fresh cup, brimful 
Of beauty and good, firm to the altar-foot, 
And glorify the Dionusiac shrine : 
Not clash against this crater in the place 
Where the God put it when his mouth had drained, 
To the last dregs, libation life-blood-like, 
And praised Euripides forevermore 
The Human with his droppings of warm tears. 


The limits prescribed by my theme prohibit me from 
considering the conclusion of the poem, in which Brown- 
ing tries his own hand at a purely subjective treatment of 
the Alkestis legend, with such success as to make us feel 
more deeply than ever his peculiar power as pre-eminently 
the poet of human life. 

'Aristophanes' Apology,' as its name implies, is a de- 
fence of Aristophanes by himself ; but it is also quite as 
much an Euripides' Apology, since, in the person of Balaus- 
tion, Browning defends Euripides against the coarse and 
savage assaults of his comic foe, and vindicates his art, 
his truth, and his loftiness of spirit and aim. Balaustion, 
repelling attack on her poet, " carries the war into Africa," 
and forces Aristophanes to draw on all his resources of 
argument and raillery in self-defence. The poem is at once 
difficult and fascinating. It is difficult, not because of any 
exceptional obscurity of style, but because of its freight of 
learning ; to understand and enjoy it thoroughly one needs 
a very considerable knowledge of Greek life in the fifth 
century B. c. It is fascinating because of its acute and 
nimble argument, its appeal to a great variety of emotions, 
and its wealth of poetic thought and imagery. As in the 
preceding poem, so also in this, the main interest centres 
in Balaustion, and in both Balaustion is inseparable from 
Euripides. In the former, a play of Euripides saves her 
and her companions from death or captivity ; in the latter, 
a "choric flower" from the 'Electra' saves Athens from 
utter demolition. In ' Balaustion's Adventure ' we have 
the girl's fine enthusiasm for her poet flooding the whole 
poem with rosy light ; in ' Aristophanes' Apology ' we have 
the enthusiasm still, but we have also the woman's mature 
thought, penetrating insight, swift and effective argument, 
and, at times, the lambent flame of her pure indignation. 
At first, the former poem has the greater charm, but to a 
deeper reading the latter poem discloses its superior attrac- 
tion and its more varied appeal to the mind and heart. 


A brief outline of the poem is as follows : It begins with 
Balaustion and Euthukles, on board ship, returning to 
Rhodes, after the shameful defeat of the Athenian fleet at 
Aigispotamoi, and the subsequent capture and humiliation 
of Athens by Lysander. Balaustion pours out a lament 
over the fallen city of her love : 

Athenai, live thou hearted in my heart : 
Never, while I live, may I see thee more, 
Never again may these repugnant orbs 
Ache themselves blind before the hideous pomp, 
The ghastly mirth which mocked thine overthrow 
Death's entry, Haides' outrage ! 

Doomed to die, 

Fire should have flung a passion of embrace 
About thee till, resplendently inarmed 
(Temple by temple folded to his breast, 
All thy white wonder fainting out in ash) 
Lightly some vaporous sigh of soul escaped, 
And so the Immortals bade Athenai back ! 
Or earth might sunder and absorb thee, save, 
Buried below Olumpos and its gods, 
Akropolis to dominate her realm 
For Kore, and console the ghosts ; or, sea, 
What if thy watery, plural vastitude, 
Rolling unanimous advance, had rushed, 
Might upon might, a moment, stood, one stare, 
Sea-face to city face, thy glaucous wave 
Glassing that marbled last magnificence, 
Till Fate's pale tremulous foam-flower tipped the grey, 
And when wave broke and overswarmed and, sucked 
To bounds back, multitudinously ceased, 
And land again breathed unconfused with sea, 
Attike was, Athenai was not now ! 

But the temptation to quote must be resisted. Balaus- 
tion, possessed by the tragic memories of the past year, 
tells out the story while Euthukles, her patient and devoted 
scribe, writes it down. The story opens with the night 
when the news of Euripides' death came to Athens. Ba- 
laustion proposes that they celebrate the event by reading 
Euripides' play, the ' Herakles,' which the poet had given 
her when she last saw him. 


Suddenly they are interrupted by cries from a troop of 
revellers outside, and a knocking at the door with the 
demand, in the name of Bacchos, that they open. At first 
they hesitate, then, in a moment, they hear 

One name of an immense significance, 

and Euthukles opens the door. There they find Aristopha- 
nes, crowned with ivy, the chorus of his just-rendered 
successful play, the ' Thesmophoriazusai,' and a crowd of 
dancers and flute-girls, all more or less drunk. One flash 
from Balaustion's eyes quells the tumult, and all slink 
away abashed, save Aristophanes. Balaustion's portrait of 
Aristophanes, as he stood at the door of her house, is 
inimitable : 

There stood in person Aristophanes. 

And no ignoble presence ! On the bulge 

Of the clear baldness, all his head one brow, 

True, the veins swelled, blue network, and there surged 

A red from cheek to temple, then retired 

As if the dark-leaved chaplet damped a flame, 

Was never nursed by temperance or health. 

But huge the eyeballs rolled back native fire, 

Imperiously triumphant : nostrils wide 

Waited their incense ; while the pursed mouth's pout 

Aggressive, while the beak supreme above, 

While the head, face, nay, pillared throat thrown back, 

Beard whitening under like a vinous foam, 

These made a glory, of such insolence 

I thought, such domineering deity 

Hephaistos might have carved to cut the brine 

For his gay brother's prow, imbrue that path 

Which, purpling, recognised the conqueror. 

Impudent and majestic : drunk, perhaps, 

But that 's religion ; sense too plainly snuffed : 

Still, sensuality was grown a rite. 

Aristophanes, sobering himself by a powerful effort of 
will, greets Balaustion half-mockingly, half deferentially. 
He is bidden to enter. The night is passed in an argument 
between Balaustion and Aristophanes, the main point of 
contention being the merits of Euripides as contrasted 


with his critic, Aristophanes ; but the discussion covers the 
wide field of the genesis, development, and functions of 
Comedy, with suggestions of its relation to Tragedy. 

Aristophanes begins by attacking Euripides, but is soon 
thrown back on self-defence, and the argument of Balaus- 
tion culminates finally in her reading to him the ' Herakles.' 
At the conclusion of the reading, after a few words more, 
Aristophanes departs. Having thus recalled in detail the 
whole discussion, Balaustion, with the added light of the 
intervening year's experience, sums up the controversy in 
a noble passage, which ends the argument and the poem. 

I forbear giving a consecutive report and analysis of the 
argument, and content myself, for the present, with mak- 
ing several somewhat desultory remarks. 

In the first place, naturally, since he speaks primarily as 
a poet and not as a critic, Browning makes little explicit 
statement of his critical judgment on Euripides in either 
of these poems. His feeling for the tragic Greek is strong 
and pervasive, and the dramatic unfolding of the two 
poems, especially of the later one, reveals his judgment 
with much greater force than any formal prose criticism 
could command. But in both poems there are passages or 
sentences here and there that disclose the nature of his 
judgment as by a flash. These, of course, are less numer- 
ous in ' Balaustion's Adventure ' than they are in ' Aris- 
tophanes' Apology ; ' for the motives of the two poems are 
different, that of the latter being distinctly apologetic, in 
the strict logical sense of the term. The latter poem is 
also far wider in scope, as well as greater in bulk and 
power, than the former. 

Thus, in ' Balaustion's Adventure,' he characterises 
Euripides as 

The meteoric poet of air and sea, 
Planets and the pale populace of heaven, 
The mind of man, and all that 's made to soar. 

In answer to those Athenians who 


wondered strangers were exorbitant 
In estimation of Euripides. 
He was not Aischulos nor Sophokles, 

he makes Balaustion say : 

Men love him not : 

How should they ? Nor do they much love his friend 
Sokrates : but those two have fellowship ; 
Sokrates often comes to hear him read, 
And never misses if he teach a piece. 
Both, being old, will soon have company, 
Sit with their peers above the talk. 

Browning clearly accepts the judgment of his wife as 
his own, in lines that are full of tender reminiscence : 

Honour the great name ! 

All cannot love two great names ; yet some do : 
I know the poetess who graved in gold, 
Among her glories that shall never fade, 
This style and title for Euripides, 
The Human with his droppings of warm tears. 

It is significant that he quotes this last line twice in his 
poem. In the concluding paragraph, after he has noticed 
Sir Frederick Leighton's famous picture, a picture that, 
with all its merit, is indebted to Browning for a consid- 
erable part of its fame, he thus makes Balaustion ex- 
press his appreciation of Euripides' play: 

And all came, glory of the golden verse, 
And passion of the picture, and that fine 
Frank outgush of the human gratitude 
Which saved our ship and me, iu Syracuse, 
Ay, and the tear or two Irhicb slipt perhaps 
Away from you, friends, while I told my tale, 
It all came of this play that gained no prize! 
Why crown whom Zeus has crowned in soul before ? 

In ' Aristophanes' Apology ' there are many lines that 
are telltale of Browning's subtle and profound apprecia- 
tion of Euripides. When Euthukles returned to his home 
from the streets of Athens, with news of Euripides' 
death, he 


entered, grave, 

Grand, may I say, as who brings laurel-branch 
And message from the tripod : such it proved. 

Balaustion, who is recounting the incident, continues : 

He first removed the garland from his brow, 
Then took my hand and looked into my face. 

" Speak good words ! " much misgiving faltered I. 

" Good words, the best, Balaustion. He is crowned, 
Gone with his Attic ivy home to feast, 
Since Aischulos required companionship. 
Pour a libation for Euripides!" 

When we had sat the heavier silence out 

" Dead and triumphant still ! " began reply 

To my eye's question. " As he willed, he worked : 

And, as he worked, he wanted not, be sure, 

Triumph his whole life through, submitting work 

To work's right judges, never to the wrong, 

To competency, not ineptitude." 

The words with which Euthukles concludes his com- 
ment on the tragic poet's work are full of suggestion on 
the point before us : 


Last the old hand on the old phorminx flung, 
Clashed thence ' Alkaion,' maddened ' Pentheus ' up ; 
Then music sighed itself away, one moan 
Iphigeneia made by Aulis' strand ; 
With her and music died Euripides. 

Later in the poem, after demonstrating to Aristophanes 
the f ruitlessness of his confessed attempts to overthrow cer- 
tain ones whom he considers a menace to society and the 
State, Balaustion says: 

. . . The statues stand mud-stained at most 
Titan or pygmy : what achieves their fall 
Will be, long after mud is flung and spent, 
Some clear thin spirit-thrust of lightning truth ! 

A little later she says : 


So much for you ! 
Now, the antagonist Euripides 
Has he succeeded better ? Who shall say? 
He spoke quite o'er the heads of Kleou's crowd 
To a dim future. 

In some lines which he makes Balaustion suggest to 
Aristophanes, Browning seems to indicate that Euripides, 
joined with the Comic Poet, at his best, is the true pre- 
cursor of Shakespeare, the 

Imaginary Third 

Who, stationed (by mechanics past my guess) 
So as to take in every side at once, 
And not successively, may reconcile 
The High and Low in tragic-comic verse, 
He shall be hailed superior to us both 
When born in the Tin-islands ! 

In these lines Browning consciously, or unconsciously, 
echoes the sentiment of the profound and prophetic re- 
mark of Socrates, ascribed to him in the * Symposium,' that 
" the genius of Comedy was the same as that of Tragedy, 
and that the writer of tragedy ought to be a writer of 
comedy also." To some extent, at least, Euripides ful- 
filled this idea. 

In the conclusion of the poem, by a curious anachronism, 
unless we construe the passage as a prophecy, Browning 
makes Balaustion refer to the famous remark of Philemon, 
the founder of the New Attic School of Comedy, who was 
not yet born. The passage is somewhat long, but its value 
in determining our poet's estimate of Euripides is so great, 
and it is so full of his own peculiar suggestiveness, that I 
shall be justified in quoting the whole. Balaustion has 
just described the burial-place of Euripides, 

He lies now in the little valley, laughed 

And moaned about by those mysterious streams, 

Boiling and freezing, like the love and hate 

Which helped or harmed him through his earthly course. 


Then, after a few words recounting her disposition of 
"the tablets and the psalterion," Euripides' farewell gift 
to her, she exclaims : 

And see if young Philemon, sure one day 

To do good service and be loved himself, 

If he too have not made a votive verse ! 

" Grant, in good sooth, our great dead, all the same, 

Retain their sense, as certain wise men say, 

I'd hang myself to see Euripides." 

Hands off, Philemon ! nowise hang thyself. 

But pen the prime plays, labour the right life, 

And die at good old age as grand men use, 

Keeping thee, with that great thought, warm the while, 

That he does live, Philemon ! Ay, most sure ! 

" He lives ! " hark, waves say, winds sing out the same, 

And yonder dares the citied ridge of Rhodes 

Its headlong plunge from sky to sea, disparts 

North bay from south, each guarded calm, that guest 

May enter gladly, blow what wind there will, 

Boiled round with breakers, to no other cry ! 

All in one chores, what the master-word 

They take up ? hark ! " There are no gods, no gods ! 

Glory to God who saves Euripides ! '' 

So our poet declares the Greek poet's immortality and 
absolves him from the Aristophanic charge of atheism, by 
subtly suggesting the deep theism which underlies his 
scepticism as to the gods of the common faith. 

My second remark is, that Browning preferred Euri- 
pides to both of his great predecessors, ^Eschylus and 
Sophocles, the latter, though a contemporary in point v 
of time, was really a predecessor in the form and spirit of 
his work. This preference is unmistakably and strongly 
shown both in the translations of the ' Alkestis ' and the 
' Herakles,' and in the entire dramatic action and argu- 
ment of the two poems. The reasons for it are not diffi- 
cult to find. Euripides was much more humane in his 
work than either of the others. He had far more knowl- 
edge of human nature ; his characters are real men and 
women, expressing something of the actual thought and 


passion of contemporary life, even his deities sharing in 
the common feeling, instead of being conventional sym- 
bols of the dramatist's ideas. Sophocles is said to have 
remarked that he represented men as they ought to be, 
while Euripides represented them as they are. It is true 
that Euripides, though confined to the narrow circle of 
themes prescribed by the conventional law of the Greek 
drama, made the action of his plays a transcript of life 
as he saw it. Psychologically, Euripides presents a much 
more difficult and a more interesting problem than either 
^Eschylus or Sophocles. He was more complex in intellect 
and character. His mind, cultivated and widened in view 
by all the learning of his time, was also full of the uncer- 
tainty and unrest of his time. He expressed the intellectual 
and moral transition, through which, in the latter half of 
his life, Greece was passing, putting into his dramas its 
perplexity, its scepticism, and both its desire for truth and 
its demand for novelty. 

All this appealed strongly to a mind like Browning's, 
which gathers up into itself all the intellectual eagerness, 
the doubt, the passion for truth, the perplexity and the 
aspiration of our own time. It may have been, too, that 
he found a point of sympathetic contact with Euripides 
in the latter's interpretation and expression of woman in 
such characters as Alkestis, Makaria, Polyxena, Elektra, 
and Iphigeneia. 

Euripides' treatment of the gods was new and startling 
among poets. In his plays, they are no longer, as in the 
works of ^schylus, mere symbols, but real personalities, 
akin to man, and sometimes even questionable personali- 
ties. He " shrank not to teach," says Balaustion, that, 

If gods be strong and wicked, man, though weak, 
May prove their match by willing to be good. 

In the ' Herakles ' he makes Amphitruon say : 

O Zeus, . . . 

In vaiii I called thee father of my child ! 


Thou wast less friendly far than thou didst seem. 

I, the mere man, o'ermatch in virtue thee 

The mighty god : for I have not betrayed 

The Herakleian children, . . . 

. . . when it comes to help 

Thy loved ones, there thou lackest wit indeed ! 

Thou art some stupid god, or born unjust. 

The hero, after he has recovered from his madness, gives 
to Theseus an account of his labours and sufferings, which 
he charges to the enmity of Herd, and then exclaims : 

Who would pray 

To such a goddess 1 that, begrudging Zeus 
Because he loved a woman, ruins me 
Lover of Hellas, faultless of the wrong ! 

In answer to his passionate outburst, Theseus cynically 
replies : 

None, none of mortals boasts a fate unmixed, 
Nor gods if poets' teaching be not false. 
Have not they joined in wedlock against law 
With one another ? not, for sake of rule, 
Branded their sires in bondage 1 Yet they house, 
All the same, in O.lumpos, carry heads 
High there, notorious sinners though they be ! 

To this Herakles responds with protest, in which is 
mingled, however, the inevitable doubt : 

Ah me, these words are foreign to my woes ! 

I neither fancy gods love lawless beds, 

Nor, that with chains they bind each other's hands, 

Have I judged worthy faith, at any time ; 

Nor shall I be persuaded one is born 

His fellows' master! since God stands in need 

If he is really God of nought at all. 

In Euripides, also, the stern and awful sense of Nemesis, 
which so profoundly characterises the plays of the older 
dramatists, is softened into a sad sense of the mysterious 
vicissitudes of life. 

In many important particulars, Euripides' mind was 
more akin to that of the modern man, and his dramatic 


genius was far less removed from the many-sidedness of 
Shakespeare than were the mind and art of any other poet 
of his time. He not only reflected his age but he also 
anticipated the coming spirit. 

" Euripides," says Bury, " was the first Greek who 
pointed beyond the Greek to a new world ; the beginnings 
of the modern spirit appear in him." 

It is equally clear that Browning much preferred the 
" Euripidean art and aims to the Aristophanic naturalism." 
With the inevitable instinct of the true poet he appreciated 
and admired Aristophanes' boldness, vigour, satiric power, 
and lyrical charm but he detested his immitigable coarse- 
ness, his outrageous buffoonery, and, above all, his fre- 
quent offences against truth. It was 

the cold iron malice, the launched lie 
Whence heavenly fire has withered, 

that roused his ire. Aristophanes, in his attacks on 
Euripides, passed all bounds of legitimate satire, and 
Browning shows his resentment of this, particularly in the 
fine passage which he puts into the lips of Balaustion, 
beginning with : 

Aristophanes f 

The stranger- woman sues in her abode 
" Be honoured as our guest ! " But, call it shrine, 
Then " No dishonour to the Daimou ! " bids 
The priestess, " or expect dishonour's due ! " 

and ending thus : 

But, throw off hate's celestiality, 

Show me, apart from song-flash and wit-flame, 

A mere man's hand ignobly clenched against 

Yon supreme calmness, and I interpose, 

Such as you see me ! Silk breaks lightning's blow ! 

It appears again later in the discussion, in Balaustion's 
caustic comment on Aristophanes' claim that if he used 
muck it was only to fight truth's battle against the 


Friend, sophist-hating ! know, worst sophistry- 
Is when man's own soul plays its own self false, 
Reasons a vice into a virtue. 

And the Browning temper shows unmistakably in her 
conclusion : 

But I trust truth's inherent kingliness, 
Trust who, by reason of much truth, shall reign 
More or less royally may prayer but push . 
His sway past limit, purge the false from true. 

My third remark is, that, in the picturesque and exqui- 
sitely varied expression of his preference for Euripides, 
Browning has the rare merit of doing no injustice to the 
other Greek dramatists. Even in his treatment of Aris- 
tophanes, whose coarseness he loathes and whose insincer- 
ity he exposes with consummate skill, he does not fail of 
a just appreciation of the real genius and strength of that 
marvellous but unlovely Titan of Greek Comedy. 

In the two poems, ' Balaustion's Adventure ' and ' Aris- 
tophanes' Apology,' Euripides is exhibited in the most 
attractive light. It is a fair question: Has Browning 
justly and adequately represented Euripides ? It has been 
intimated by Symonds that he is guilty of special pleading, 
that he has, in a word, to some extent idealised his 
favourite Greek poet. The intimation, however, is not 
serious, nor is it pressed. On the whole it is my convic- 
tion that Browning's judgment, with perhaps some slight 
reduction of the high colour which Balaustion's feminine 
devotion imparts, will stand. But how about his transla- 
tions ? Of the ' Herakles ' there can be no question. As 
a translation it leaves almost nothing to be desired in 
faithfulness to the original. In this respect it serves as a 
model for the ablest workers in the field of translation 
from the Greek classics. 

A question remains as to the ' Alkestis.' In his render- 
ing of this exquisite drama, has Browning fairly inter- 
preted Euripides ? In one instance, at least, this has been 


answered in the negative. The single point, or at least 
the main point, of criticism is his representation of the 
character of Admetos as that appears in connection with 
the substitutionary death of his wife. In a paper read 
before the London Browning Society, in 1891, and after- 
wards published in the Society's Papers, Mr. R. G. 
Moulton took strong ground on the negative side of this 
question. The title of his paper is a succinct expression 
of his judgment : ' Balaustion's Adventure as a Beautiful 
Misrepresentation of the Original ; ' and he begins with 
the frank avowal : " My position is that Browning, in com- 
mon with the greater part of modern readers, has entirely 
misread and misrepresented Euripides' play of ' Alcestis.' ' 

With all deference to Mr. Moulton, as a superior classi- 
cal scholar, I contend that Browning's transcript is not a 
misrepresentation of the Greek dramatist. Mr. Moulton's 
argument turns mainly on the assumption that Alkestis 
died for the State, and not merely for her husband ; and 
he finds an important, indeed the chief, dramatic motive of 
the play in the glorification of hospitality, of which Adme- 
tos is presented as an eminent example. He contends, 
further, that Admetos was not selfish in allowing the sub- 
stitution of Alkestis for himself, and that he endeavoured to 
save her, but was unable to do so because Fate had decreed 
her death and there could be no second substitution. 

Now, in the first place, it is impossible to maintain, 
from the play, that Alkestis dies for the State. Her death 
is not a sacrifice like that of Menoikeus in the ' Phoenissse,' 
or that of Iphigeneia in the ' Iphigeneia in Aulis ' which 
Mr. Moulton cites, or even like that of Polyxena in the 
'Hecuba.' Of the 'Alkestis' Mahaffy says: "In this 
play the heroine voluntarily resigns her life under no 
pressure of misfortune, with no lofty patriotic enthusiasm, 
but simply to save the life of her husband, for whom 
Apollo has obtained the permission of an exchange." ] 

' Classical Writers, Euripides,' Mahaffy, p. 94. 


Mr. Moulton says : " We celebrate as a brave patriot the 
soldier who dies in his country's battle, but had he hesi- 
tated we should have called him a traitor and a coward. 
So it was glorious of Alcestis to die for her royal husband : 
but she herself applies the term ' treachery ' to the thought 
of refusing." Unfortunately for his argument, the pas- 
sage which he cites utterly fails to sustain it. Alkestis 
dies for Admetos, not as the head of the State, but as her 
husband and the father and natural protector of her chil- 
dren, rather than live, a widow, without him, or form a new 
union. It is not even for love of Admetos that she dies ; 
for while she shows a high sense of wifely duty, there is no 
trace of any passionate fondness for her weak and selfish 
husband. " She represents," says Mahaffy, " that peculiar 
female heroism, which obeys the demands of affection in 
the form of family ties, as the dictates of the highest 
moral law. We see these, the heroines of common life, 
around us in all classes of society. But I venture to 
assert that in no case does this heroic devotion of self- 
sacrifice come out into such really splendid relief, as when 
it is made for selfish and worthless people." 1 

In the passage which Mr. Moulton cites, Alkestis thus 
addresses her marriage bed : 

Farewell : to thee 

No blame do I impute, for me alone 
Hast thou destroyed ; disdaining to betray 
Thee, and my lord, I die. 

She recognises her doom as the decree of the Fates, and 
accepts it; yet, in accepting it, protests her freedom to 
have chosen otherwise, and mildly reproaches Admetos' 
parents, either one of whom reasonably, considering their 
almost spent lives, might have accepted the lot of death 
and saved both him and her. I quote from Potter's 
translation of the play : 

1 ' Greek Classical Literature,' Mahaffy, Vol. I., Part H., p. 103. 


Thou seest, Admetos, what to me the Fates 

Assign ; yet, ere I die, I wish to tell thee 

What lies most near my heart. I honour'd thee, 

And in exchange for thine my forfeit-life 

Devoted ; now I die for thee, though free 

Not to have died ; but from Thessalia's Chiefs 

Preferring whom I pleased in royal state, 

To have lived happy here ; I had no will 

To live bereft of thee with these poor orphans. 

I die without reluctance, though the gifts 

Of youth are mine to make life grateful to me. 

Yet he that gave thee birth, and she that bore thee, 

Deserted thee, though well it had beseem'd them 

With honour to have died for thee, to have saved 

Their son with honour, glorious in their death. 

They had no child but thee, they had no hope 

Of other offspring, shouldst thou die ; and I 

Might thus have lived, thou mightst have lived till age 

Crept slowly on, nor wouldst thou heave the sigh 

Thus of thy wife deprived, nor train alone 

Thy orphan children. 

Contrast these last words with those of Menoikeus, who 
is about to sacrifice himself in order to save Thebes. The 
city is besieged, and Tiresias has revealed to Creon that 
the city can be saved only by the sacrifice of Menoikeus, 
Creon's son. Creon feigns assent, but, when alone with 
his son, urges the latter to fly. Menoikeus, in his turn, 
seems to accede to his father's wishes, but the moment he 
is left to himself he announces his resolution to make the 
sacrifice, and save Thebes. 

With an honest fraud my words 
Have calmed my father's fears, effecting thence 
My purpose. Distant far he bids me fly, 
Robbing his country of its fortune, me 
To cowardice assigning : to his age 
This may be pardon'd ; but for me, should I 
Betray my country, whence I drew my breath, 
There could be no forgiveness. Be assured, 
I go to save my country ; for this land 
Freely I give my life. . . . 
. . . This is my firm resolve. 
To death devoted, no inglorious offering, 
I go to save, to free this suffering land. 


Contrast also the last words of Alkestis with those of 

Iphigeneia : 

Hear then what to my miiid 
Deliberate thought presents : it is decreed 
For me to die : this then I wish, to die 
With glory, all reluctance banish'd far. 
My mother, weigh this well, that what I speak 
Is honour's dictate : all the powers of Greece 
Have now their eyes on me ; on me depends 
The sailing of the fleet, the fall of Troy : 

. . . To be too fond of life 

Becomes not me ; nor for thyself alone, 

But to all Greece a blessing didst thou bear me. 

. . . For Greece I give my life. 

Slay me ; demolish Troy ; for these shall be 

Long time my monuments, my children these, 

My nuptials, and my glory. 

No such note as sounds through both of these speeches 
is heard in the final utterances of Alkestis. Neither she 
nor Admetos says one word, throughout the play, intimat- 
ing that Alkestis' death was a sacrifice for the State. Not 
even does the chorus, which almost inevitably discloses the 
real motive of a Greek play, hint that Alkestis' death is a 
sacrifice for the State. After she has disappeared, the 
chorus, commenting on her deed, sings : 

For thou, O best of women, thou alone, 

For thy lord's life daredst give thy own. 
Light lie the earth upon that gentle breast, 

And be thou ever bless'd ! 

When, to avert his doom, 

His mother in the earth refused to lie ; 

Nor would his ancient father die 
To save his son from an untimely tomb ; 

Though the hand of time had spread 

Hoar hairs o'er each aged head ; 
In youth's fresh bloom, in beauty's radiant glow, 

The darksome way thou daredst to go, 
And for thy youthful lord's to give thy life. 

Be mine so true a wife, 
Though rare the lot : then should I prove 
The indissoluble bond of faithfulness and love. 


The last line is weighty with meaning, and it is directly 
opposed to Mr. Moulton's theory of the play. 

Even in the passage in which, after Alkestis has gone, 
Admetos bewails his lot, declares that he ought not to live, 
and confesses his own cowardly baseness, and in which he 
certainly would have urged, in self-defence, so important a 
consideration as the good of the State, had that been in- 
volved, he has no word to say about the State. His sorrow 
grows bitter with compunction and the beginnings, at 
least, of self-contempt, as he anticipates the way in which 
men, all too truthfully, will speak of him. 

And if oue hates me, he will say : " Behold 
The man who basely lives, who dared not die ; 
But giving, through the meanness of his soul, 
His wife, avoided death, yet would be deem'd 
A man : he hates his parents, yet himself 
Had not the spirit to die." These ill reports 
Cleave to me : why then wish for longer life, 
On evil tongues thus fallen, and evil days ? 

If Alkestis' death was not a sacrifice for the State, then 
there is no shred of reason left for doubt that Admetos 
(notwithstanding his admitted virtue of hospitality, a virtue 
which selfish men not infrequently have) was both weak 
and selfish in accepting the substitution of his wife for 
himself. Such Euripides represents him, and such Brown- 
ing, in his transcript of Euripides' play, represents him, 
only, perhaps, with increased vividness. Mr. Moulton's 
argument, that, Fate having decreed the death of Alkestis, 
Admetos is helpless to save her, even if he wished to do 
so, by himself submitting to the doom, goes too far ; the 
same argument would prove that even Herakles could not 
rescue her. 

Mr. W. B. Donne, in his excellent little volume on 
Euripides, 1 says : " Admetus makes almost as poor a figure 
in this play as Jason does in the 'Medea.' Self-preser- 
vation is the leading feature in his character. He loves 

1 In the aeries of ' Ancient Classics for English Readers,' pp. 83, 84. 


Alcestis much, but he loves himself more. . . . When 
the inexorable missive comes for her, he is indeed deeply 
cast down : yet even then there is not a spark of manliness 
in him." 

Mr. Berdoe, in his useful ' Browning Cyclopaedia,' has 
done Browning marked injustice in giving, as the only 
comment on his rendering of the ' Alkestis,' a long digest 
of Mr. Moulton's paper, and the single remark : " The 
design of this tragedy is to recommend the virtue of hos- 
pitality, so sacred among the Grecians, and encouraged on 
political grounds, as well as to keep alive a generous and 
social benevolence." On the point of the glorification of 
hospitality in the ' Alkestis ' it is important to observe 
that the hospitality of Admetos is represented in Brown- 
ing's version of the play quite as strongly as it is in the 

It seems unnecessary to spend any more time on Mr. 
Moulton's argument, for if his contention breaks down at 
the single point of the motive of Alkestis' self-sacrifice, as 
I venture to think it does, its force is gone as a demonstra- 
tion of Browning's misrepresentation of Euripides. 

On one point, however, I linger for a moment. Mr. 
Moulton says : " The foundation, the turning-point, and 
the consummation of the plot are all made by Euripides to 
rest upon the hospitality of Admetos." He is not quite 
consistent, however, for near the conclusion of his paper he 
affirms that he considers " the real motive of the play, the 
conception which underlies the whole, and welds the sepa- 
rate parts into a unity," to be "a contrast, not between 
two characters the selfish Admetus and the devoted 
Alcestis but between two ideals : the ancient ideal of 
public splendour, and the modern ideal of domestic love." 
But here he abandons his main idea of the voluntary self- 
sacrifice of Alkestis for the sake of the State, and even his 
positivo affirmation that " the foundation, the turning-point, 
and the consummation of the plot are all made by Euripides 


to rest upon the hospitality of Admetus." In his later 
statement, as to a conflict between two ideals constituting 
" the real motive of the play " there is some truth, but it 
entirely defeats his contention that Browning has misrepre- 
sented Euripides. May not " the real motive of the play " 
have been deeper still ? May not Euripides, not denying, 
but implicitly recognising the common ideals both of devo- 
tion to the State and of hospitality, really have sought to 
set forth the very thought which Browning has so finely 
developed, namely, the contrast between the selfishness of 
Admetos and the self-sacrifice of Alkestis, and the regener- 
ation of Admetos' character by the discipline of the tragic 
experience through which he passed, leading him to self- 
knowledge, repentance, and the attainment of a nobler 
spirit? If this be a fair conjecture, as I think it is, it 
vindicates the fidelity of Browning in interpreting the 
Greek poet through his own deep poetic feeling and 
insight. Instead of " the assumption of selfishness in 
Admetos reducing the story to an artistic and moral 
chaos, in which a god at the beginning and a demigod 
at the close set themselves to work miracles in the sole 
interest of a weak and heartless man," as Mr. Moulton 
declares it does, it gives to the drama the unity of the 
moral regeneration of a king who is " weak and heart- 
less " because he is predominantly selfish. 

But these poems have a value apart from their merit as 
representations of Euripides. In the story of Balaustion 
Browning has seized upon two incidents of exceptional 
dramatic interest, one, the release of Athenian prisoners 
because they were able to recite passages from Euripides' 
plays, which seems to be authentic ; the other, the modifi- 
cation of Lysander's iconoclastic resolution because a man 
of Phokis, present at the council of the Spartan and allied 
generals, recited a passage from the 'Electra,' for the 
authenticity of which we have, at least, the testimony of 
Plutarch. These incidents Browning has utilised with 


consummate art, making them critical moments in the 
development of his poems. 

Though each poem is distinct and complete in itself, 
they unite in a Balaustion-epic, the interest of which does 
not fail from beginning to end, while throughout we find 
much of Browning's characteristic lyric beauty, dramatic 
power, skill in portraiture, love of truth, and invincible 


[Read before the Boston Browning Society, April 22, 1896.] 

THE Spirit of the Age is mighty; but the spirits of all 
time are mightier yet. Looking backward, we love to play 
with antitheses, and to set century off against century. 
Looking inward, we note with seeming glee the symptoms 
of our own decadence. Novelty, novelty! is our cry: 
give us at any cost the distinctive, the peculiar. But all 
the time, while we chatter about that which passes, Nature 
busies herself with that which endures. Serene and unify- 
ing artistic forces move unobtrusively through the ages, 
binding our petty self-expression into a wider harmony. 
To follow their interplay is to penetrate far into the secrets 
of the intellectual loves of our race. 

One of the most important of these enduring influences 
makes toward us no doubt from classic shores, from the 

shores of Hellas : 

If Greece must be 

A wreck, yet shall its fragments reassemble, 
And build themselves again impregnably 

In a diviner clime, 

To Amphionic music, on some cape sublime, 
Which frowns above the idle foam of time. 

So sang Shelley, and the " diviner clime " where Hellas 
melodiously builds herself ever-renewed habitations, is 
the clime of poetry. Very early the Greek spirit showed, 
in its reaction on Roman literature, its intense power to 
modify, almost to recreate, an alien genius. The more 


powerful force of Christianity checked it in seeming, but 
received from it unconsciously more than was realised. 
Coming in with a rush at the Renascence, the Hellenic 
influence has from that time, in spite of the Hebraising 
eddy of Puritanism, never failed to hold its own, even if 
we are not quite prepared to claim with Matthew Arnold 
that it has on the whole dominated civilisation, out of 
England, for the last three hundred years. A vivid Pagan 
revival has, at all events, marked our own day. The 
Greek impulse has reached us directly, through the origi- 
nal sources, instead of filtering through French and Latin, 
as it did in the last century. Owing to countless subtle 
spiritual causes also, it has wrought entirely different 
results from those produced either in the sixteenth or in 
the eighteenth century. To the literary student the chief 
interest in tracing the movement of a great artistic force 
like that of the Greek ideal through the world, is to note 
not only its advance, but also and chiefly its successive 
modifications as it blends with the mood of various periods. 
It is always fascinating to dwell on the wedding of Faust 
and Helen. Helen is immortal ; but each generation sees 
a new Faust, and Euphorion, the offspring of that wedlock, 
reappears with quite new features from age to age. 

Nothing can be more delightful than to watch the vari- 
ous results of the action of classic influence in the time, 
say, of Spenser, the time of Addison, the time of Swinburne 
and Leconte de Lisle. But we are not to explore so wide 
a territory to-day; we are simply to study classic influ- 
ences in the work of two of the great moderns, Shelley 
and Browning. The subject is broad enough still ; for 
with Shelley we have Hellenism at work in revolutionary 
times, with Browning in the age of Victoria ; with Shelley 
we have a disciple of Greece, with Browning a critic ; 
with Shelley we watch classical influence at play in a 
nature essentially lyrical, with Browning in a nature 
essentially dramatic. Yet Browning by his own reverent 


claim is the spiritual successor of Shelley. It is signifi- 
cant that these are the two great moderns in whom Hel- 
lenism is most vital and vivid. So daemonic is the spirit 
of Greece, that it has a way of accenting the master-passion 
of each successive age. The time of Addisou revelled in 
the correctness, finality, exquisite moderation which it 
found in the classic ideal. Following this lead, we should 
expect Wordsworth and Tennyson, high-minded teachers 
of obedience and law, to preserve the serene and sym- 
metrical classical tradition. Yet Tennyson and Words- 
worth treat Greek subjects seldom and' from afar. It is 
Shelley, it is Browning, who turn most eagerly for inspira- 
tion to the ancient world. These poets, each in his own 
way an impassioned votary of Freedom, express the on- 
ward-sweeping force of a century whose watchword is 
not Conservation but Advance. They find in classicism 
no gospel of the proprieties. Their instinct for revolt, 
their audacity of temper, their brilliant spontaneity, seize 
on quite a different aspect of Greek life, the life, after 
all, of a nation made up of dreamers, sea-rovers, and 
fighters quite as much as of law-givers; a nation always 
trying experiments in art and government, and notable from 
the very fact that it shook itself free at the outset from 
oriental stability, and joyously faced the world's future. 
We are to study the affinity for this Greece of our two most 
adventurous modern natures. And first we take Shelley, 
bright young herald of revolution, in whom our great 
epoch of expansion found its most buoyant prophet. 

We are tempted to say that had Greece not existed 
Shelley would have invented it, so curiously did his nature 
conform to the Hellenic type, despite the romantic fanta- 
sies of his youth. At once subtle and childlike, he was a 
bright estray in our modern world, akin to the beautiful 
keen-witted youths of the Platonic dialogues, and be- 
wildered as they might be by his modern environment. 
Our moral perceptions nowadays have a trick of becom- 


ing more subtle than our thought ; hence our uncomfort- 
able pre-occupation with problems. In Shelley, as in the 
Greeks, it is quite the other way ; a wonderful, childlike 
simplicity of moral instinct is joined to clear and keen 
intellectual power, " this way and that dividing the swift 
mind." Son of light as he was, the Gothic and Christian 
obsession with sin and struggle was wholly alien to Shelley. 
Rarely was he beset by problems ; his quick thought darted 
contentedly to its convictions, and rested there. His very 
style was Greek. Surely there are no other " winged 
words " in English so luminous, penetrating, pure. Says 
Walter Bagehot : 

The peculiarity of his style is its intellectuality. . . . Over 
the most intense excitement, the grandest objects, the keenest 
agony, the most buoyant joy, he throws an air of subtle mind. 
... At the dizziest height of meaning the keenness of the 
words is greatest. It was from Plato and Sophocles, doubt- 
less, that he gained the last perfection in preserving the accu- 
racy of the intellect in treating of the objects of imagination ; 
but in its essence it was a peculiarity of his own nature. 

Such a nature must, sooner or later, find its home in 
the great classic tradition. During his impetuous boyhood 
Shelley was under the sway of the French eighteenth- 
century philosophers ; but his mind was wistful and exiled 
till it found its true fatherland in Greece. The author of 
4 Epipsychidion ' could not remain a follower of Voltaire. 
In 1815, he read Plato in the original. The master was 
discovered, and at once, as it seems, the genius of the 
disciple broke into blossom ; for this was the first year of 
Shelley's mature greatness, the year of ' Alastor.' From 
this time the classic influence was dominant with him. 
It reached him through many channels, through plastic 
beauty, history, scenery, as well as through books ; but of 
course literature was its chief instrument. Shelley was 
no erudite pedant. He read Greek as a man of letters, not 


a scholar ; but he read it enthusiastically, constantly, with 
remarkable swiftness and ease. The little volume of 
^Eschylus, found in his pocket after death, bore witness to 
a life-long fellowship. He knew well Homer, Aristophanes, 
the tragedians, the idyllic and elegiac poets, less well the 
historians ; and all these, but above all his beloved master, 
Plato, penetrated his mind as intimately as light the air. 
His sober estimate of Greek civilisation is found in pas- 
sage after passage of his prose writings. " The study of 
modern history," he says, "is the study of kings, finan- 
ciers, statesmen, and priests. The history of ancient 
Greece is the study of legislators, philosophers, and poets ; 
it is the history of men compared to the history of titles. 
What the Greeks were was a reality, not a promise. And 
what we are and hope to be is derived, as it were, from 
the influence and inspiration of those glorious genera- 
tions." 1 Shelley roamed far and wide with impassioned 
joy through many literatures ; now Dante, now Goethe, 
now Calderon, made him dizzy with delight. But from 
all these friendly excursions he returned with deepened 
reverence to his lords and masters, the Greeks. 

Lords and masters, indeed, in no pedantic sense. Shelley 
treats his classics with a splendidly audacious fellowship, 
hailing them delightedly as comrades across a whole inter- 
vening civilisation. It is a proof of the spontaneous and 
instinctive nature of his classicism that his poetry does not 
set to work to imitate Greek models. He translates the 
pastoral poets, and blends their exquisite utterances with 
his own elegiac strain in the ' Adonais ; ' he serenely adopts 
and reshapes for his own purposes the Promethean myjfch. 
But never would it occur to him laboriously to concoct a so- 
called " classical drama," copied point by point from the old 
form, like Arnold's ' Merope,' or Swinburne's ' Erechtheus.' 
He treats his material in quite a different way, with sweet, 
frank mastership. He sighs not after vanished gods, like 

1 Discourse on the Manners! of the Ancients relative to the Subject of Love. 


our later neo-pagans. Why should he? From him, at 
least, they have never withdrawn their gracious company. 
Nay, he can create with his mere breath new denizens of 
Olympus. Nothing is more striking indeed, in our revolu- 
tionary poets, than their mythopoeic instinct. As a merry 
breeze from far hill-pastures blows into a still drawing- 
room, this fresh instinct swept into the blase traditions of 
the eighteenth century. The halls of poetry were filled 
with courtly folk, dancing minuets, or sipping scandal 
with their tea ; in a few years the halls melted away, and 
poetry found itself in the forest, peopled with dryads, and 
visited by immortals. Keats and Shelley were her chief 
guides in this fresh woodsy world of antiquity and child- 
hood. Their imagination has something primeval and 
cosmic ; it touches the old myths, which had become 
stock-in-trade of the versifier, myths of Phoebus, Aurora, 
Aphrodite, and they laugh into life. Shelley's ' Arethusa,' 
his ' Hymn of Pan,' his ' Hymn of Apollo,' are serene and 
alive with conviction. 

The sleepless Hours who watch me as I lie, 

Curtained with star-inwoven tapestries 
From the broad moonlight of the sky, 

Fanning the busy dreams from my dim eyes, 
Waken me when their Mother, the grey Dawn, 
Tells them that dreams and that the moou is gone. 

Then I arise, and climbing Heaven's blue dome, 
I walk over the mountains and the waves, 

Leaving my robe upon the ocean foam ; 

My footsteps pave the clouds with fire ; the caves 

Are filled with my bright presence, and the air 

Leaves the green earth to my embraces bare. 

I am the eye with which the Universe 

Beholds itself, and knows itself divine ; 
All harmony of instrument or verse, 

All prophecy, all medicine, are mine, 
All light of Art or Nature ; to my song, 
Victory and praise in their own right belong. 

What could be more nobly, more entirely classic ? 


Often the myth-impulse is evidenced in new, exquisite 
creations. A poem like ' The Cloud ' is trembling into 
myth throughout : 

That orbed maiden, with white fire laden, 

Whom mortals call the Moon, 
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor, 

With the midnight breezes strewn ; 
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet, 

Which only the angels hear, 
May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof, 

The stars peep behind her and peer ; 
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee 

Like a swarm of golden bees, 
While I widen the rent in my wind-built tent, 

Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas, 
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high, 

Are all paved with the moon and with these. 

Nothing could witness more delightfully to the inherent 
classicism of Shelley's genius than the ease with which 
these new incarnations of ideas which the Greek would 
not have conceived, blend in mystical and perfect har- 
mony with real Greek gods and goddesses. This fusion 
is, of course, most obvious in the ' Prometheus Unbound,' 
that strange drama where images drawn from the classic 
past mingle with fair dreams of a yet unrealised future, 
all to reveal the abiding, present, modern form of suffering 
Humanity. The early parts of the drama have passages 
purely Hellenic ; the last act sweeps us upward, with no 
violent break, into a scientific attitude emphatically modern. 
Apollo, Mercury, and Faunus meet on equal terms the em- 
bodiments of modern Pantheism, and echoes of a music 
yet unborn float through the valley-glades of antiquity. 

Shelley moves in the world of classical imagination with 
the free grace of a native of the air. But we are only at 
the beginning of our study. Greek by instinct, he is also 
Greek by thought. And here we part company with Keats, 
whose pagan impulse, purely innate, was nourished from 
no more original spring than a Dictionary of Mythology. 


It is wonderful enough that ' Endymion ' and ' Hyperion ' 
should have had no other suggestion. Keats' lovely myths 
" tease us out of thought as doth eternity." His neo- 
paganism is pjurely aesthetic. In Shelley, on the other 
hand, the intellect as well as the imagination was possessed 
with Hellenic influences, and the innate Greek instinct 
was reinforced by long study and impassioned contempla- 
tion^ We may trace his classic feeling in three_ways ; his 
poetry is permeated by Greek conceptions of beauty, by 
the Greek ideal of freedom, and by the Platonic philosophy. 
Shelley's charming ' Letters of Travel ' show what a spell 
was cast upon him by classic antiquity, and especially by 
Greek art. The statues in the Italian galleries left him 
without words, transported out of reach of time and of 
decay. In scenery his imagination craved and claimed 
the most classic elements. He never visited Greece ; but 
in southern Italy he found loveliness of a similar type, and 
bathed his spirit in it. There are few more splendid bits 
of English prose than the letter in which Shelley describes 
his visit to the Temples of Paestum as yet uninvaded 
by the tourist ; and the Bay of Naples became instantly a 
part of his mental life. These influences play through all 
his poetic work in subtle under-suggestion. Shelley, in 
describing, deals very little with form or outline; his 
effects are wrought in colour, atmosphere, and fragrance, 
and constantly tremble into subjectivity. Yet in all his 
vaporous pictures there is the implied presence of a classic 
ideal. "Wide reaches of azure ocean, broken by fair moun- 
tain-islands and promontories temple-crowned, form his 
backgrounds. In these scenes with their lovely desolation 
his genius is as much at home as Wordsworth's in green 
English fields. Through a classical landscape, irradiated 
by that light which is of no time, wander his dream- 
creations, and their forms are those of the statues of the 
Italian galleries, endowed with breathing grace. Laon, 
Lionel, all Shelley's young champions of freedom, are of 


the family of Harmodius and Aristogiton, and have the 
bright daring and beauty of the heroes of the youth of the 
world. Suggestions from the lovely reliefs to be seen at 
Naples and elsewhere may be traced through the poems 
as where Panthea and lone sit with folded wings and deli- 
cate grace at the feet of the Titan, or Cythna, standing on 
the steps of the great Altar of the Federation, white against 
bluest heaven, chants in the presence of the triumphant 
procession her Ode to Freedom. Shelley rarely treats of 
old age. For him, as for the Greeks, life belongs to the 
young. But his few old men he never gave us an 
old woman, except Mother Earth Zonoras in ' Prince 
Athanase,' the Hermit in 4 The Revolt of Islam ' 
are august, venerable, simple, like the classic statues of 
age. Least sculptural of poets, in a way, his work is yet 
haunted by memories of classic sculpture. 

Shelley's affinity for Greek form is never more evident, 
or more unconscious, than in his great tragedy, 'The 
Cenci.' He meant to follow the minor Elizabethans. 
But the whole thing is utterly remote from the lawless 
romantic temper. The stately relentless tragic movement, 
unrelieved by play of niixed motive or note of humour or 
fancy, witnesses no less than the highly abstract method of 
character-treatment to a really antique instinct. Beatrice 
is sister to Antigone, not to the Duchess of Main", and it is 
as futile to criticise the absence of the modern psychologi- 
cal method in Shelley as in Sophocles. 

Greece did more for Shelley than to form his aesthetic 
ideals. She was not only a vision of beauty ; she was " the 
Mother of the Free." In political and social passion, he 
was a true son of the victors of Marathon. One is some- 
times tempted to say that he never went any further. 
This would be quite unjust, in view of his intense intui- 
tion of the wide commonalty of love, and of that passionate 
championship of the weak which is so essential to his faith, 
so alien to the temper of Hellas. Yet it remains true that 


there is something singularly classic in his revolutionary 
ardours, in their simplicity and wholeness, their disregard 
of obstacles, their ignorance of modern conditions. His 
poetiy glows and sings and vibrates with invocations to 
Liberty, and he is never tired of glorifying Greece for her 
part in the manifestation of this divine Power. We all 
remember the splendid passages in the first Canto of ' The 
Revolt of Islam ' and in the majestic ' Ode to Liberty.' 
In this last poem, by the way, Shelley gives us a really 
noble reading of history, and a more evolutionary concep- 
tion of the advance of Freedom than he elsewhere shows. 
But on the whole, his idea of Liberty is nearer that of 
Leonidas than that either of the modern constitutional re- 
former, or of the social democrat. His friendship with 
Prince Mavrocordato, and his enthusiasm for the Greek 
war of independence, finally inspired him to the splendid 
lyrical outburst of ' Hellas,' a poem in which his impas- 
sioned loyalty to Greece and his sense of her high mission 
find supremely beautiful expression : 

Semi-chorus. I. "With the gifts of gladness 

Greece did thy cradle strew; 

II. With the tears of sadness 

Greece did thy shroud bedew ; 

I. With an orphan's affection 

She followed thy bier through Time ; 

//. And at thy resurrection 

Reappeareth, like thou, sublime ! 

I. If Heaven should resume thee, 

To Heaven shall her spirit ascend ; 

II. If Hell should entomb thee, 

To Hell shall her high hearts bend. 

I. If Annihilation 
II. Dust let her glories be ; 
And a name and a nation 
Be forgotten, Freedom, with thee ! 


And still, in talking of the incentive to imagination and 
to the social passion which Shelley found in Greece, we have 
only skirted the outer regions of his devotion. At his heart 
lay a deep and controlling discipleship to the power which 
had set him free in early youth, and continued to the end to 
exalt and satisfy his spirit. Shelley's mind was exactly of 
the type to assimilate most eagerly the Platonic metaphysic. 
It would be a fascinating quest to follow the influence of 
Platonism in our English poets. I think there is only one 
other poet him of ' The Faery Queen ' in whom it is 
so strong a spiritual force as in Shelley. And even Spenser 
has so Christianised his idealism that it is not so near Plato 
as is the purely natural mysticism of the poet of ' Adonais.' 
Thoroughly to discuss Shelley's Platonism that is, his 
whole idealist philosophy, which is pervaded by Plato 
would be outside the scope of this paper. I can only ask 
you to remember the constancy of his Platonic studies, and 
then to glance with me at that beautiful translation of the 
'Symposium' in which, as it seems to me, Shelley has 
given a great treasure to our English prose. I think 
you will be surprised to see how many of Shelley's root- 
ideas are found even in this one dialogue, and how abso- 
lutely his distinctive thought coincides with that of his 

The ' Symposium ' is of course a dialogue about Love ; 
and the conception of love, approached from one point of 
view after another in the Socratic fashion, is finally un- 
folded in full beauty by Socrates himself. Even in the 
earlier and inferior speeches, we find many ideas sym- 
pathetic to Shelley. The very first, bringing out the 
power of love as the one incentive to noble life and deed, 
finds echo in his whole work : the second speaker, Pau- 
sanias, emphasises that distinction between earthly and 
heavenly love, which is never far from Shelley's mind, and 
is expressed with special stress in the ' Athanase ' and the 
' Epipsychidion.' But it is when Socrates begins that we 


feel ourselves definitely in the presence of Shelley's master. 
First, the old sage laughs gently at some of the preceding 
ideas, the pretty sentimental notions of the young poet, 
who thinks of Love as a fair god and gracious, dwelling in 
the place of flowers and fragrance, Lord of Joy and Glory 
of gods and men. He sets aside without comment the 
crude or rollicking materialism of the doctor or the comic 
poet. He goes on to give his own idea, in one of those 
delicate and marvellous Platonic myths which show the 
great philosopher equally great as a poet. Love, says 
Socrates, is not the offspring of Aphrodite ; he is the Child 
of Poverty and Plenty, and has in him something of the 
nature of both parents. He interprets between gods and 
men, being neither mortal nor immortal. Hence he ever 
seeks and never finds, he is squalid, mean, terrible, implor- 
ing, he wanders through life the Companion of Want, and 
the same fate rests on those who join his fellowship. Now 
in this myth it seems to me we have the whole temper and 
spirit of Shelley, the whole philosophy of his wistful life. 
Xot to possession, but to yearning, is his song attuned : 

The desire of the moth for the star, 

Of the night for the morrow, 
The longing for something afar 

From the sphere of our sorrow. 

Love's pilgrim, Companion of Want, his brief years were 
dedicated to a quest for ever baffled, ever renewed, " the 
desire of generation in the Beautiful." 

Love, Socrates goes on to say, must never be confined to 
one object. Shelley would quite agree with him: 

True love in this differs from gold or clay 
That to divide is not to take away, 

he cries in the ' Epipsychidion.' His conception, like 
Plato's, is sometimes baffling in its impersonality. But 
the impersonality of the Platonic idea has a noble source. 
Love can rest in no one object because it seeks the Arche- 


typal Loveliness, the One Spiritual Substance, free from 
material taint. In the last part of the ' Symposium ' Plato 
soars from the lesser to the greater mysteries, and reaches 
a vision never transcended. Few spirits could feel at home 
in this high region, but of these spirits Shelley is one. 
On the wide ocean of intellectual beauty to quote his 
own echo of Plato his little bark set sail. Plato's con- 
ception is indeed profoundly progressive and intellectual. 
From frequenting fair forms in youth, the soul is to mount 
to fair practices ; thence to the vision of laws, of science, 
of One Science, supreme and eternal. Love is the quest 
of the Immortal ; and its final aim is Truth. 

An enemy might claim that Shelley never quite rose 
from the region of fair forms into the region of unem- 
bodied realities, or at least that he never long sustained 
himself in the upper air. The frail spirit even of a Shelley 
craves indeed the air of earth. Yet in the main he was 
true to his quest. On his eager boyhood fell the Shadow 
of Intellectual Beauty ; he clasped his hands in ecstasy and 
swore that to the Power of the Unseen Ideal he would 
dedicate his life. " Have I not kept the vow ? '" he could 
proudly cry in later years. To Shelley as to Plato all 
earthly substance is reflection only, and the Ideal itself, as 
apprehended by the human mind, a " shadow of beauty 

For love and beauty and delight 

There is no death nor change ; their might 

Exceeds our organs, which endure 

No light, being themselves obscure. 

Shelley's Platonism is deep as his thought, deep as his 
faith. It blends with his very life. 

Thus Greece became to Shelley far more than a country. 
She became a great Fact, a great Idea, aglow with life. 
She comprehended the best he could conceive of creative 
beauty, of high social passion, of intellectual and spiritual 
wisdom. And so he proclaimed her immortality : 


Greece and her foundations are 
Built below the tide of war, 
Based on the crystalline sea 
Of thought, and its eternity. 

A third of a century flies past us ; we are in the Victo- 
rian age ; a new poetic generation is murmuring in our 
ears. What message has Greece for our Victorians ? Her 
work for Shelley was clear. The Greek spirit was " the 
eagle fed with morning " which swept this young Gany- 
mede up from the prosaic leve-ls of eighteenth century 
thought to a seat with the Immortals. Such triumphs she 
is to know in our century no more. Her power is to 
move in a medium either alien or impotent. The fact 
is all the more striking because the desire of the poets is 
largely the other way. Classical models are more con- 
scientiously studied; the classical ethics and philosophy 
are more zealously followed ; there is a strained deliberate 
effort to return to Hellenic standards in art, thought, and 
faith. But where is the Hellenic spirit? Our neo- 
paganism is no longer instinctive but defiant, no longer 
natural but assumed. Shelley writes a classic drama while 
he is tr} r ing to do something quite different. Swinburne 
and Arnold with splendid equipment try their best to 
write one, produce a perfect imitation in form, and 
fail. The failures are beautiful to be sure, but their beauty 
is an insult to real classicism. They are written on theory, 
not .impulse. Swinburne says to himself : The Greek 
drama is fatalist ; go to ! I will be more fatalist still. So 
he heaps tragic motive on motive four deep in the 
4 Atalanta in Calydon ' adorns the whole with supreme 
melody and produces a drama from which any Greek 
would recoil in bewildered dismay. He offends by the 
Too Much. Arnold, on the other hand, says to himself: 
The note of the Greek moral temper is moderation ; I will 
be more moderate. And he writes the ' Merope,' whereof 
the end is tamejaess. He offends by the Too Little. Both 


these true poets wish to be Greek, try to be Greek both 
with Leconte de Lisle, Carducci, and others are children of 
the latest neo-pagan reaction. But how futile, how pitifnl 
their attempts though interesting always, even at times 
felicitous in a studied way beside the heroic ease and 
buoyancy and free joyousness of Shelley's classical work ! 

An entirely different relation to classical ideals i& shown- 
in Browning. No attempt in him to return to antiquity, 
casting off from his feet the dust of the present ! He ex- 
ults in that modern life which our minor and weaker Vic- 
torian poets with one accord deplore. A man of our own 
time, his genial and large presence seems still among us, 
proclaiming harmony in our jangles and discords. No- 
body, I suppose, could be more un- Greek than Browning, 
by nature. He is modern, Christian, Gothic, Teutonic, 
what you will but Greek never ! In Italy, where 
Shelley has eyes for nothing artistic except Greek statues, 
Browning sees first and foremost mediaeval Christian art. 
We all remember his deliberate, spirited vindication of 
his preferences in 'Old Pictures in Florence '- his repu- 
diation, once and for ever, of the Pagan ideal. How terse, 
how final, it is! Put it beside passages from Shelley's 
Letters, if you would see the difference df spirit : 

May I take upon me to instruct you"? 
When Greek Art ran and reached the goal, 

Thus much had the world to boast, infructu 
The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken, 

Which the actual generations garble, 
Was re-uttered, and Soul (which Limbs betoken) 

And Limbs (Soul informs) made new in marble. 

So, you saw yourself as you wished you were, 

As you might have been, as you cannot be ; 
Earth here, rebuked by Olympus there : 

And grew content in your poor degree 
With your little power, by those statues' godhead, 

And your little scope, by those eyes' full sway, 
And your little grace, by their grace embodied, 

And your little date, by their forms that stay. 


Growth came when, looking your last on them all, 

You turned your eyes inwardly one fine day 
And cried with a start What if we so small 

Are greater aiid grander the while than they 1 ? 
Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature? 

In both, of such lower types are we 
Precisely because of our wider nature ; 

For Time, theirs ours, for eternity. 

To-day's brief passion limits their range ; 

It seethes with the morrow for us, and more. 
They are perfect how else? they shall never change : 

We are faulty why not? we have time in store. 
The Artificer s hand is iiot arrested 

With us ; we are rough-hewn, nowise polished : 
They stand for our copy, and once invested 

With all they can teach, we shall see them abolished. 

It will be interesting to see what a poet of this defi- 
antly modern attitude will make of Greek subjects. De- 
spite his alleged indifference, he cannot let them alone. 
Through the long sequence of his work, beginning in 
boyhood, there are allusions, suggestions, there are not- 
able occasional poems. Finally, in later life, his delight- 
ful imaginative curiosity, satiated with roaming through 
his own times and the Renascence, turns back to that wide 
world of antiquity, explores it a little, and presents us on 
its return with ' Balaustion's Adventure,' .'Aristophanes' 
Apology,' and the translation of the 'Agamemnon.' 

We notice at once that Browning pays no attention 
whatever to those elements in the Hellenic ideal which 
swayed and shaped Shelley's genius : its mythopceic im- 
pulse, its conception of beauty, its passion for freedom, 
its philosophic thought. Myth-making ? Browning has 
something better to do; he creates not myths, but men. 
Ideas of beauty? No statue-reminiscences for the poet 
whose souls, stripped bare almost of fleshly vesture, are 
permitted to pause one iastant only in their bewildering 
flight through eternity, to reveal their past and their 
future. Of outward beauty, indeed, Browning takes curi- 


ously little account less perhaps than any other great 
poet except Shakespeare. He suggests it, but as for be- 
ing dizzy in its presence, like Shelley, the only presence 
in which Browning's sturdy genius becomes rapt is that 
of a moral victory. So, 

bring the invisible full into play ! 
Let the visible go to the dogs what matters ? 

There 's his idea What then of the Greek passion for 
freedom, the incentive to noble social and political ideals 
to be found in the great annals of antiquity ? How about 
Greece, the Mother of the Free ? Why, of course Brown- 
ing admits all that, as any school-boy does, and gives it 
lip-homage. But real vital personal enthusiasm over the 
abstract idea of Greece, I cannot find. Our great poet 
was not much stirred, so far as I can discover, by the Des- 
tiny^ of Nations ; he was too passionately absorbed in the 
destiny of souls. The wide social and political concep- 
tions of the Revolution, Browning, after ' Sordello,' simply 
passes by, except when he uses the passion for liberty, or 
patriotism usually the latter as a motive for such a 
character-study as Luigi or Djabal. I said at the out- 
set, and truly, that he is a great prophet of Freedom. But 
the truth is that Freedom, which to the poets of the Revo- 
lution, as to the Greeks, was a political collective aim, 
quite consistent, at least in Shelley, with a fatalistic 
philosophy concerning the individual, is to Browning pro- 
foundly personal and inward, a spiritual, not a social state. 
Sometime, I hope a poet will come to show us that it must 
be both to be either, but we have not found him yet. 

Finally, as to Platonism, I speak with diffidence, but it 
does not seem to me that Browning was a Platonist, ex- 
cept as every civilised man, especially every idealist, must 
be one. Certainly, the points in Plato's thought on which 
we have just seen Shelley seizing most eagerly, have no 
attraction for Browning. Shelley, following Plato, thinks 


of each human love as imperfect shadow of the Archetype, 
to be discarded as the soul goes on. Browning's plea for 
fickleness he has one, vide 'Fifine' rests on quite a dif- 
ferent basis. With the emotional communism of Shelley 
and Plato he has no sympathy at all. He is as personal 
in his thought of love as he is everywhere. To him, each 

beloved individual Constance, Colombe, Caponsacchi 

is a substantial, final, concrete fact not a shadow of Eter- 
nal Beauty, but a part of it. People are not shadows to 
Browning, even of the infinite; they are more, they are 
men and women. In the Platonic picture of Love hov- 
ering between Poverty and Plenty, we come nearer to 
the thought of the man who, truly as Shelley, is the 
prophet of aspiration ; yet here too the likeness is, I think, 
chiefly apparent. To Plato and Shelley, a passion while 
it exists is ultimate and absolute ; advance comes through 
discarding it for a new and higher love. But to Brown- 
ing at .his best, growth is innate within each noble love. 
A great passion, like the life-giving air of spring, supplies 
an atmosphere within which the nature expands to its per- 
fection. Not only through desire but through possession, 
the great law of development goes on. 

Browning is at no point touched to sympathy with Shel- 
ley on classic themes. Neither his aesthetic nor his politi- 
cal nor his philosophic self is influenced, far less pervaded, 
by Greek thought. And now, is it not a tribute to the 
inexhaiistibleness of classic civilisation that this man, this 
alien, should dip into its great store-house turning away 
from the treasures of the Christian World and bring forth 
things entirely new, genuinely Greek, which Shelley would 
never have had either eyes to see or heart to love ? This 
is what Browning has done. His treatment of Greece lias 
been so fruitful, so illuminating, that many of us get from 
it entirely new ideas of much in that great Greek world. 
Let us not talk in negatives any longer ; let us ask what 
our poet has to tell us about Greece. 


I cannot find that Browning in early life plunged very 
eagerly into Greek literature. Incorrigible modern that he 
was, Shelley seems to have done for him very much what 
the Greeks did for Shelley. His father, who was a scholar 
and read Greek, told him the ' Tale of Troy ' and rocked 
him to sleep with ' Anacreon ' when he was a baby ; but 
it is doubtful if the ' Anacreon ' was appreciated. He 
must, however, have been familiar with a good many 
classic masterpieces before writing ' Pauline.' The classic 
allusions in that poem are so interesting that I quote them. 
Browning has not at all found himself in this first poem of 
his. It is, of course, written under the controlling influ- 
ence of Shelley, and the classical bits seem to me viewed 
through Shelley's mind, and treated in Shelley's manner. 
He is describing his early reading : 

They came to me in my first dawn of life 

Which passed alone with wisest ancient books 

All halo-girt with fancies of my own ; 

And I myself went with the tale a god 

Wandering after beauty, or a giant 

Standing vast in the sunset an old hunter 

Talking with gods, or a high-crested chief 

Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos. 

I tell you, naught has ever been so clear 

As the place, the time, the fashion of those lives : 

I had not seen a work of lofty art, 

Nor woman's beauty nor sweet nature's face, 

Yet, I say, never morn broke clear as those 

On the dim clustered isles in the blue sea, 

The deep groves and white temples and wet caves ; 

And nothing ever will surprise me now 

Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed, 

Who bound my forehead with Proserpine's hair. 

And these vivid lines on the great tragedies, two of 
which he afterwards translated: 

The lore 

Loved for itself and all it shows the king 
Treading the purple calmly to his death, 
While round him, like the clouds of eve, all dusk, 


The giant shades of fate, silently flitting, 
Pile the dim outline of the coming doom ; 
And him sitting alone in blood, while friends 
Are hunting far in the sunshine ; and the boy 
With his white breast and brow and clustering curls 
Streaked with his mother's blood, and striving hard 
To tell his story ere his reason goes. 

Again : 


And she is with me : years roll, I shall change, 
But change can touch her not so beautiful 
With her fixed eyes, earnest and still, and hair 
Lifted and spread by the salt-sweeping breeze, 
And one red beam, all the storm leaves in heaven, 
Resting upon her eyes and hair, such hair, 
As she awaits the snake on the wet beach 
By the dark rock, and the white wave just breaking 
At her feet ; quite naked and alone ; a thing 
I doubt not, nor fear for, secure some god 
To save will come in thunder from the stars. 

Those are very lovely passages; and the dwelling on 
the ideal beauty and the mythology of Greece seems to me 
quite in Shelley's manner. At the same time, I like to 
note how Browning peeps out, in the choice of unusual 
epithet like " salt-sweeping," and above all in the dramatic 
instinct, the note of personal interest, as in the three vivid 
lines of the Orestes' story. He never did just this sort of 
thing again. After ' Pauline,' Greece practically vanished 
from his early work. In ' Sordello ' and ' Paracelsus ' he 
turned to study far more congenial periods, the Middle 
Ages, and the revival of learning. In 'Pippa Passes,' 
where Browning's .genius seems to me to burn clear for 
the first time, there is a fine description of a bas-relief, and 
Jules, the young sculptor, is an ardent devotee of classic 
art; a few exquisite touches .describe the pure and alas ! 
deceptive beauty of Phene, the Greek bride. But Jules 
deserts his classical ideas at the end, and "breaks his 
paltry models up, to begin Art afresh." A Shelley hero 
would not have done that. I remember no classic work in 


the other dramas. Then comes the long central period of 
Browning's genius, the ' Men and Women ' and ' Dra- 
matis Personse,' a period of poems short, but, as many 
still feel, his greatest. In the range of these brilliant 
poems, which almost run the gamut of possible experience 
in every age, it would be strange indeed if we found no 
classic studies. But the hour of Greece has not yet struck 
for Browning. Such studies are very few; these few, 
however, brilliant and noteworthy. The first is ' Artemis 
Prologises,' a fragment of a tragedy dealing with the 
Phredra-Hippolutos story, composed, Browning tells us, 
much against his will while he lay ill in bed with a fever. 
Artemis, standing beside Asclepios in the forest while he 
seeks to resuscitate the dead youth, tells in terse, pure, 
direct lines the tale of his tragic death : 

I am a goddess of the ambrosial courts, 
And save by Here, Queen of Pride, surpassed 
By none whose temples whiten this the world. 
Through heaven I roll my lucid moon along; 
I shed in hell o'er my pale people peace ; 
On earth I, caring for the creatures, guard 
Each pregnant yellow wolf and fox-bitch sleek, 
And every feathered mother's callow brood, 
And all that love green haunts and loneliness. 
Of men, the chaste adore me, hanging crowns 
Of poppies red to blackness, bell and stem, 
Upon my image at Athenai here ; 
And this dead youth, Asclepios bends above, 
Was dearest to me. 

She then tells the story in a way very still, sustained, 
intense, and, as it seems to me, eminently classic. There 
is great rapidity and spirited conciseness of style in the 
lines describing the overthrow of the chariot by the sea- 
beast, and the dragging of Hippolutos along the shore : 

then fell the steeds, 

Head-foremost, crashing in their mooned fronts, 
Shivering with sweat, each white eye horror-fixed. 
His people, who had witnessed all afar, 
Bore back the ruins of Hippolutos, 


But when his sire, too swoln with pride, rejoiced 

(Indomitable as a mail foredoomed) 

That vast Poseidon had fulfilled his prayer, 

I, in a flood of glory visible, 

Stood o'er my dying votary, and, deed 

By deed, revealed, as all took place, the truth. 

Proceed thou with thy wisest pharmacies ! 
And ye, white crowd of woodland sister-nymphs, 
Ply, as the sage directs, these buds and leaves 
That strew the turf around the twain ! While I 
Await, in fitting silence, the event. 

This noble poem certainly avoids the criticism pro- 
nounced by Matthew Arnold in his letters, anent Swin- 
burne's 'Atalanta,' that the moderns will only tolerate 
the antique on condition of having it more beautiful, ac- 
cording to their ideas, than the antique itself. There is no 
touch of ornament here, only the severe story ; the beautjr, 
true to Greek fashion, is in subject and situation : the 
virgin-goddess beside the aged Healer, bending over the 
virgin-youth ; no sentimentalising permitted in treatment. 
One can well imagine that these cool verses brought re- 
freshment to a fevered brain. I suppose it was with inten- 
tion that Browning, when he re-arranged his works, placed 
this poem immediately before ' The Strange Medical Expe- 
rience of Karshish, an Arab Physician,' the Pagan legend 
of resurrection, with its serene physical character, quite 
devoid of spiritual suggestion, before his wonderful medi- 
tation on the Christian Story of Lazarus. He was fond 
of such juxtapositions. 

'_Cleon ' is the next classic study which we find. The 
poem, very brilliant, is, if I mistake not, of especial signifi- 
cance ; for in it Browning first shows his peculiar attitude 
toward antiquity, an attitude which I think he is alone 
in holding among our modern poets, that of the critic. 
' Cleon ' is a study of the mind of a cultured Greek of the 
decadence, when Greek civilisation has run its course and 
told its whole story, a characteristic moment for Brown- 


ing to choose. It opens with four lines that set before us 
the outer scene, and certain vivid hints of the manners of 
the time, their courtesy, and their respect for the arts : 

Cleon the poet (from the sprinkled isles, 

Lily on lily, that o'er-lace the sea, 

And laugh their pride when the light wave lisps " Greece ") 

To Protus ill his tyranny, much health ! 

Vivid though the setting is, Browning cares little for it. 
He writes out of no enthusiasm for Greece, but out of 
keen desire to penetrate her intellectual secrets, and to 
show the inadequacy of her conception of life. He wishes 
to analyse the "profound discouragement " into which, 
according to his idea, her children fall, as in old age they 
realise the futility of seeking to comprehend all the truth 
and beauty their clear spirit sees, within finite limits of 
personality or time. Cleon, the poet, artist, philosopher, 
the versatile and cultured man, touching all arts, achieving 
highest excellence in none, calls upon One who shall 
manifest all human possibilities in one supreme perfection. 
Cleon, the elderly man, his every power just brought 
by long study to the point of critical fineness where life 
could truly be enjoyed, cries out in despair, menaced by 
the Final Darkness. The dramatic point of the poem is 
found in the two passages, full of strange pathos, where 
Cleon unconsciously shows the two great Christian truths 
necessary to make his Pagan life worth living : 

I.cng since, I imaged, wrote the fiction out, 
That [Zeus], or other God, descended here, 
And, once for all, showed simultaneously 
What, in its nature, never can be shown, 
Piecemeal or in succession ; showed, I say, 
The worth both absolute and relative 
Of all his children from the birth of time. 


It is so horrible, 

I dare at times imagine to my need 
Some future state revealed to us by Zeus, 
Unlimited in capability 


For joy, as this is in desire for joy, 

. . . But no ! 

Zeus has not yet revealed it ; and alas, 
He must have done so were it possible ! 

Thus the old Pagan civilisation, according to Browning, 
reduces itself ad absurdum, and Cleon, its mouthpiece and 
representative, declares : 

Where is the sign ? I ask, 
And get no answer, and agree in sum, 

king, with thy profound discouragement, 
Who seest the wider but to sigh the more. 
Most progress is most failure : thou sayest well. 

There 's a splendid dramatic turn at the end. Cleon, in 
his desperate sense of need, has cried : 

Zeus has not yet revealed it ; and alas 
He must have done so were it possible ! 

He turns, with, the courteous scorn which only the man of 
culture can show, to answer one last question of his 
correspondent : 

Live long and happy, and in that thought die; 
Glad for what was ! Farewell. And for the rest, 

1 cannot tell thy messenger aright 
Where to deliver what he bears of thine 

To one called Paulus ; we have heard his fame 

Indeed, if Christus he not one with him 

I know not, nor am troubled much to know. 

Thou canst not think a mere barbarian Jew 

As Paulus proves to be, one circumcised, 

Hath access to a secret shut from us ? 

Thou wrongest our philosophy, O king, 

In stooping to inquire of such an one, 

As if his answer could impose at all! 

He writeth, doth he 1 Well, and he may write. 

Oh, the Jew findeth scholars ! certain slaves 

Who touched on this same isle, preached hi^i and Christ; 

And (as I gathered from a bystander) 

Their doctrine could be held by no sane man. 

Thus confronting dying Greece with new-born Christian- 
ity, Browning turns away. We are left to imagine how the 
reply of Paul to Protus would differ from that of Cleon. 


I have dwelt on this poem because of its significance, 
and also because it is, for a long time, Browning's last 
classical study. He had said his say, a short one, pro- 
nounced his judgment, and passed on. The poem was 
written in 1855. Not till 1871 did he give the world his 
next poem on a Greek subject, ' Balaustion's Adventure.' 
In the mean time he had published ' Dramatis Personse ' 
and 'The Ring and the Book.' His married life had 
closed. His message had been given. Through all Chris- 
tianised civilisation his spirit had roamed, interpreting 
with rare passion and power the intensely varied possi- 
bilities of human experience. In ' The Ring and the 
Book,' in particular, he had made close study of Christian 
society at its most corrupt period. The monologue of the 
Pope, in a brilliant passage which might well be put beside 
Cleon, compares the results of Christian civilisation with 
those which might be pleaded by Euripides. This passage, 
if I mistake not, is the first indication of Browning's de- 
votion to Euripides. All this strong, varied, and fiery 
work the work of his prime Browning had produced. 
Then suddenly he turned aside from what impulse who 
shall say ? Perhaps from simple wish for new manifesta- 
tions of human life to explore ; perhaps from a little 
weariness with over-complex Christianised conditions, a 
little craving for the freshness and savour of an elder 
world. Only three years separate Pompilia from Balaus- 
tion. Slighted Greece claimed her own, as she claims it 
from each master-spirit. Nor would she leave him till 
her claim was granted, and her annals enriched by 'Ba- 
laustion's Adventure,' ' Aristophanes' Apology,' the 
transcripts from Euripides, and the translation of the 
'Agamemnon.' The decade between 1871 and 1880 in- 
cludes all Browning's longer classic poems, and witnesses 
the fervour with which he threw his great intellect at its 
prime back upon Hellenic antiquity. 

The two short Greek poems of this period ' Pheidip- 


pides ' and ' Echetlos ' have a different, more purely 
artistic interest. They give Browning's splendid and 
mature power in classical experiment. The poem ' Phei- 
dippides,' in particular, should be put beside the early 
passages in ' Pauline,' to show how the old dream-mist has 
faded away, and the images stand out clean-cut, masterly, 
seen through pure, autumnal air. Chairete, Nikomen the 
words ring through our ears. Here we have Browning on 
Shelley's own ground. Here, for once, is the delighted 
rendering of a Greek myth, here the statuesque conception 
of athletic prowess, here the splendid passion For Greece 
and freedom. But we wear our rue with a difference. 
The beautiful statue is poised on no relief; he races in 
long steady stress between Athens and Sparta, a real 
youth, whose panting breath keeps time to our own across 
the centuries. The god, too, is no bright emanation of air 
and intellect, like Shelley's Olympians ; he is a splendid, 
grotesque, shaggy creature, over whose kindly counte- 
nance spreads the " good gigantic smile o' the brown 
old earth." 

There, in the cool of a cleft, sat he majestioal Pan ! 

Ivy drooped wanton, kissed his head, moss cushioned his hoof. 

All the great God was good, in the eyes grave-kindly the curl 

Carved on the bearded cheek, amused at a mortal's awe, 

As, under the human trunk, the goat-thighs grand I saw. 

The passion for freedom is no longer lyrical and abstract; 
it is embodied in history, enhanced by the background of 
contention between Athens and Sparta, and carried onward 
into the very field of Marathon. Character and fact have 
replaced abstraction and fantasy. 

In the greater poems, which the Browning Society has 
this year so carefully considered, Browning's distinctive 
method of treating classic subjects reaches full develop- 
ment. And how unique it is ! Regardless of Greek 
myths or Greek ideals, he makes straight for Greek 
life : 


Lo, the past is hurled 

In twain : up-thrust, out-staggering ou the world, 
Subsiding into shape, a darkness rears 
Its outline, kindles at the core, appears 

not Verona this time, but Athens. His imagination works 
directly on the complex social and artistic conditions of 
that ancient city. I do not know any man of vision who 
has given so brilliant a delineation of Greek society as 
Browning. I know none who has attempted it except 
Walter Savage Landor, and I wish some enterprising mem- 
ber of our Society would set his ' Pericles and Aspasia ' 
against ' Balaustion ' and ' Aristophanes.' Perhaps these 
poems, with their easy wealth of illustration and their 
wide intellectual interest, could hardly have been written 
before the epoch of modern scholarship. The imagination 
plays in them on the results of close classical study. As 
we owe the Hellenic poems of Shelley to an aesthetic and 
philosophical inspiration, derived from classic literature, so 
in lirowning the historic sense comes into play, nourished 
on the records of Hellenic life. 

The first thing to strike us as we read these brilliant 
poems, is that Browning is in his own way as great an 
enthusiast for Greece as Shelley himself, or Swinburne, or 
Che'nier. No imaginative writer has proved himself more 
splendidly appreciative of what we consider the classic 
ideal of beauty, with its bright dignity. The beauty 
centres of course in Balaustion, one of his loveliest crea- 
tions. Pure Greek assuredly she is ; single-hearted, ardent, 
unconscious, gracious, yet with all her high simplicity keen 
of wits and swift in scorn. She is set apart from Brown- 
ing's modern women by her pure directness of passion 
and intent. What could be fairer setting to her first 
Adventure than the sight of her, surrounded by her four 
listening friends Petals', Phullis, Charope*, Chrusion, 
clustering around her, 

with each red-ripe mouth 

Crumpled so close, no quickest breath it fetched 
Could disengage the lip-flower furled to hud. 


What classical idealist could fail to be satisfied with the 
picture of Balaustion, springing on the ship's altar and 
swaying and singing there, while to the music of her high 
song the rowers drive the pursued ship fiercely forward 
through the black sea ? As she stands in her impassioned 
purity on the steps of the Temple of Herakles, pressed by 
the eager Syracusans breathless for the Alkestis-tale, while 
Euthukles sits reverent at her feet, our thought goes back 
to the Cythna of Shelley, chanting the psean of freedom by 
the Altar of the Federation. The beauty is the same; but 
warm human interest, and emotions historically possible, 
have replaced Shelley's bright dream. 

The Greece of Shelley lives in the heart of Balaustion ; 
but how much more besides ! Through the lips of this 
" lyric girl," rather than through a disquisition, Browning 
elects to tell us of the prime and decadence of the arts in 
Greece. Incidentally, many of the chief features of Greek 
intellectual life come out always against the suggested 
background of political turmoil. The picture is vividly 
alive, and, at least in the first poem, inspiriting. The 
wholesome vigour of a civilisation where the arts were the 
heritage of all, natural as air to the entire populace, instead 
of being, as too often to-day, the monopoly of a languid 
aesthetic aristocracy, never has been better rendered. There 
is a delightful simplicity and sanity about the whole thing. 
True to fact, and to his own constant impulse, Browning 
gives us no cloudy vision of glory and freedom, but a 
society in flux of life, where fermenting forces are at work, 
moving, alas ! to deterioration. Two stages of a great 
civilisation are imaged in these poems. 

It is characteristic of our Victorian poet that he does not 
choose for his study the Age of Pericles. That splendid 
Thirty Years it was no more still to the instinct of 
the world as to the instinct of Shelley means the whole 
concept " Greece." Browning's first poem gives us Greece 
yet aglow with more than the memory of the great age. 



Spphokles and Euripides still uphold the high tradition 
of Art and Freedom ; yet already Nikias is defeated, and 
the islands rise against the dominion of Athens. Fac- 
tions are virulent, though, " because Greeks are Greeks, and 
hearts are hearts, and poetry is power," Balaustion is able 
for one brief splendid hour to lift men into high loyalty 
to art and Hellas. 'Aristophanes' is placed soine years 
later. The disaster has come. Balaustion once more 
speeds across the ^gean, humiliated, scornful. Sparta 
has triumphed ; the walls of Athens are laid low. Look- 
ing back, the Lady with her warm golden eyes reviews for 
us the conditions which led to the great downfall. " The 
poetry and prose of a life " Browning always loved to show 
us in successive acts. Balaustion's first Adventure is the 
poetry of Greece ; her second, its prose. Aristophanes 
succeeds Euripides ; surrounded by his rollicking chorus 
of scoffers, he bursts into Balaustion's presence. Before 
her grave Greek purity, how effective the picture ! the 
ribald crowd slinks abashed away : 

Witness whom you scare, 
Superb Balaustion, 

chuckles the comic poet, with swift dramatic sense. Dis- 
missing these attendants, the great and grotesque Master 
makes his Apology to Balaustion and to us ; reveals with 
keenest satire the weak side of that brilliant society, its 
foibles which he flattered, its scandal which he fostered, 
its impatience of high aims in politics or art. Greece is 
still Greece, and Aristophanes, subtle, slippery, scintillat- 
ing, has the old intellectual brilliance. But subtlety in 
him has gone too far, and his shifting sophistry, his casu- 
istical excuses for loose speech and life, the side-lights 
thrown on the fickleness and irreverence of the Athenian 
populace, show better than pages of historical disquisi- 
tion how that bright Pagan life moved to disaster. It 
is the Athens of the decadence which he gives us, in brief 
vignette of theatre, street, or banquet, a city crossed now 


and then by the grave pale shadow of Sophokles, or hushed 
into brief respect by the message of the death of its third 
great tragedian, only to break forth into fiercer carousing. 
This Greece imaged in environment by Aristophanes' 
talk, in essence by his personality this Greece was bound 
to fall. Close to history, close to the inexorable truths of 
the moral law, Browning has given us an entirely new 
revivification of classic fact. 

Close to history but are we sure of the statement? 
Plenty of readers are found to deny the claim a bit scorn- 
fully ; to assert that ' Aristophanes' Apology ' is no more 
really Greek than ' Ferishtah's Fancies ' is Persian, that 
both are a convenient garb for English Browning. Proba- 
bly the style is chiefly responsible for this impression. Our 
neo-pagan imitations as a rule, from Shelley to Arnold and 
Swinburne, are limpid, simple, and pure, smooth reading, 
in which tongue and thought slip easily along, assured that 
no incorrectness or obscurity will break the even tenor 
of dignity. Browning's style can be dignified and even 
with the best; yet how often it brings up the hapless 
reader with a jolt, sets him to hair-splitting subtleties, 
maddens a slow brain by elisions, contractions, and hints, 
and a pleasure-loving one by harsh concatenation of con- 
sonants ! Very modern, doubtless ; and yet I speak 
timidly, lest student-recollections play me false is there 
not another aspect to Greek style besides serenity and 
lucidity? Did not that amazing people write at times 
with a lofty abruptness which clashes harshly upon ear 
and mind, with swift, bewildering condensation, with sud- 
den turns and subtle hints enough to require volumes of 
footnotes from a languid generation? If I am wrong, cer- 
tain hours spent over tragic choruses, and over pages of 
Thucydides I beg Browning's pardon, Thoukudides 
were strangely misleading. Plenty of poets are eager to 
imitate the clearness and self-restraint and harmony of 
Greek style; I know none except Browning who has 


seized on its difficulty, its intense almost rude concise- 
ness, thought-freighted, thought-divided. These are the 
qualities which make his rugged translation of the 
' Agamemnon ' so imposing to me : 

The tenth year this, since Priamos' great match, 
King Menelaos, Agamemnon king, 
The strenuous yoke-pair of the Atreiclai's honour 
Two-throned, two-sceptred, whereof Zeus was donor, 
Did from this land the aid, the armament despatch, 
The thousaud-sailored force of Argives clamouring 
" Ares " from out the indignant breast. 

I think that much more sincere work than : 

This year is the tenth since to plead their right 
'Gainst Priam with arms in the court of fight 
Two monarchs of throned and sceptred reign 
Vicegerents of Zeus, the Atridae twain, 

Led from this coast their warlike host, 
With a thousand vessels to cross the main, 

From their soul fierce battle crying. 

It may of course be urged that much roughness and 
obscurity in the narrative portions of Greek tragedy are 
due to corruption of the text, and that a translator should 
not follow this accidental effect. Yet when all is said, 
Browning's 'Agamemnon' bears much the same relation 
to our ordinary classic transcripts that the majestic shat- 
tered remains of the Temple of Poseidon at Psestum 
bear to modern Greek architecture, such for instance as 
our Bostonian St. Paul's on Tremont Street. 

The question of accuracy is yet more subtle and unan- 
swerable when we turn to the delineation of Greek life. 
We can never, of course, reach any surety in such a ques- 
tion, since no living mortal can escape the modern per- 
sonal equation in judgment. Browning is certainly no 
belated Greek, and the spirit of Hellas never leaps in 

his VeinS. TTp IS a Christian prmc^/raining T^mcolf. a 

enter an alien ^world. His sub-conscious appeal to the 
modern audience is never absent ; in a word, he is not the 


countryman but the critic of his p.rpa.t.inryi. But the critic 
to-day no longer looks at his subject from afar, or touches 
it with cool, distant finger. He darts to the centre of his 
subject and speaks thence ; be has become the interpreter. 
So Browning, in these poems, projects the light of his 
whole rare intelligence and imagination upon Greek soci- 
ety, and he would be a pedant indeed who found the result 
without value. Specific inconsistencies and inaccuracies 
of detail might indeed be discovered. Would a high- 
minded woman of that period, we may ask, be able to play 
the public part of Balaustion ? More serious, in a way, are 
the points where the modern man drops his ancient mask, 
and Browning resorts to his favourite device and puts into 
the mouth of his characters unconscious prophecy. One 
detail of this kind is the constant reaching forward through 
the aesthetic discussion to the poet who shall combine com- 
edy and tragedy, the Shakespeare who is to be. I am 
never sure how far this trick of Browning's is legitimate, 
but it is always interesting. In these poems, however, it 
is of infrequent occurrence. Despite slips in fact and 
spirit, I do not see how any one can read the poems 
without feeling that the poet of Christianity and the 
Renascence has for the time being retreated in a really 
masterly way within the spiritual and intellectual horizon 
open before the time of Christ. If proof of Browning's 
imaginative scholarship were needed, a mere comparison 
of the range of thought and feeling in Christian Pompilia 
and Greek Balaustion will be convincing witness. 

Greece was only an episode to Browning. Once more, 
in the ' Parleyings with Gerard de Lairesse,' he returned 
to delightful brooding, something after the ' Pauline ' 
manner, over fair classic myths, only to end with deliber- 
ate plea for the modern and the real. His pilgrim mind 
pressed out into our present world where paradoxes 
thicken, the world of Napoleon III. and Le*once Miranda. 
His powers played with the old freedom again on Chris- 


tian thought in ' Ferishtah's Fancies,' on personal revela- 
tions in ' Asolando.' Only one short episode in a varied 
intellectual career. But what an episode ! Browning the 
alien gives us in this handful of poems more of real 
Greece, the Greece of history, than has Shelley or Swin- 
burne or any neo-pagan by instinct and by choice. To 
Shelley, Athens is 

a city such as vision 

Builds from the purple crags aud silver towers 
Of battlemeuted cloud. 

To Browning, it is the home of men and women, whose 
eager interests we may share, and whose warm friendship 
may be ours. His way and Shelley's are both good: 
good to respond with the idealist to the Vision of wisdom, 
beauty, freedom good also, with the psychologist and 
dramatist, to feel the strong strange fellowship of human 
life, spanning centuries and civilisations. Greece, the 
k ' Mother of the Free ! " She has shaped and controlled 
the spirit of the poet who chiefly among moderns sings 
the liberty of the race ; and she has, if not shaped, yet 
enriched and diversified the power of the poet who, chief 
among moderns, has revealed the liberty of the soul. She 
is unexhausted yet; who can tell what new inspiration 
she may hold, what new spiritual affinities she may 
awaken, in the poet of the future? The calm correctness 
of Addison, the revolt of Shelley and Swinburne, the weary 
resignation of Arnold, the realistic subtlety of Browning, 
all hark back to Greece, all present themselves in her 
name and with her sanction. Assuredly, those yet to 
come will bring new treasures to the race still in that 
sacred name. 



[Read before the Bostou Browning Society, March 23, 1897.] 

NATURE has always exercised a compelling influence over 
the mind of man. The glory of the heavens, the solem- 
nity of the forest shades, the hush of early dawn, and the 
mystery of the ever-changing ocean, touched him ages ago 
with irresistible attraction. The early mythologies are a 
proof of their power to subdue, to uplift, and to renew. 
The hymn of the Aryan worshipper at daybreak, the chant 
of the American Indian, the handkiss of the Persian, have 
all had back of them that instinctive reverence of the soul 
in the presence of an eternal witness to some power greater 
than itself. 

Yet there have been changes in the spirit with which 
man has approached nature, none the less real because 
they are in some respects hard to define. Speaking briefly, 
one may say that the characteristic of the nature element 
in Greek literature is form rather than suggestion, and 
that the word of nature to man was embodied in definite 
legend rather than in the expression of conscious sym- 
pathy or suggestion. The love of nature for its own sake 
was practically unrecognised even where it may be de- 
tected, and it is difficult for us to appreciate the delicacy 
and ingenuousness of that emotion which created the 
myths, and repeated them again and again. This Greek 
feeling for nature allures while it baffles us. Our poets 


sigh backward for the old-world unconsciousness and wish 
that they 

had been born in nature's day, 
When man was in the world a wide-eyed boy. 

The new glow of life and exuberance of feeling that 
flooded the world with the advent of the Elizabethans was 
expressed in their interpretations of nature hardly less 
than in the swing and spirit with which they set forth 
dramatic action, or revealed with masterly strokes the 
many-sidedness of human nature. The breath of outdoor 
life was genuine, and betrayed no hint of the study or 
of the stage. Its sincerity was made evident by simple 
touches of incidental description, too fine and accurate not 
to have been the outcome of experience ; secondly, there 
was in it the glow and richness of imagination, equal to 
creating a new world of light and colour; and, finally, 
nature appeared, not as a background, or with definite, 
fixed significance, as in the days of the Greeks, but with a 
bewildering variety of suggestion that illustrated human 
nature, and might be compared with it. The imagination 
that could interpret the world of human life by the objec- 
tive universe, the exquisite comparisons that wove the two 
together, might almost have seemed to leave nothing over 
for later poets to express ; but with the coming of the 
nineteenth century, two entirely new elements entered 
into the poetry of nature, influencing new periods of poetic 

The first of these two elements came in the reaction 
against all traditional or conventional authority which 
dominated the thinkers and the poets of the opening cen- 
tury. The causes that led to the French Revolution, the 
clash of opinions, and the conflict of ideals which accom- 
panied it, influenced deeply the thoughts of men in Eng- 
land, and the new tendency showed itself, not only in the 
enthusiasm for freedom in political and social directions, 
but in a desire to throw off the bonds of ecclesiastical and 


theological restraint and to put in their place attractions 
and feelings deeper but far less definite. The wonderful 
poetry of the Elizabethans, born out of the fresh feeling 
and eager spirit of the age, must be compared with poetry, 
equally vital and genuine, equally the expression of inten- 
sified national ideals. 

The glory of external nature thrilled the souls of the 
new poets through and through. In it they found re- 
vealed a diviner beauty and goodness than their creeds had 
taught, and they yielded themselves to a pantheistic adora- 
tion, whose spiritual passion thrills us yet. The love of 
nature was itself a religion. Through it they could look 
to the God of nature, here revealed as nowhere else. 
There is a rapture, a self-surrender, about the writings of 
their poets that is not repeated by their successors. Even 
Wordsworth, reflective as he is, addresses the skylark with 

There 's madness about thee, and joy divine 

In that song of thine ; 

Lift me, guide me high and high 

To thy dwelling-place in the sky ; 

and he could listen to the wandering voice of the cuckoo 
until the earth seemed an unsubstantial, fairy place, and 
the bird itself rather "a hope, a voice," longed for but 
never seen, than a veritable creature of English woods and 
air. The intense, compelling emotion of Keats' 'Ode to 
the Nightingale ' is hardly more than representative, and 
Shelley's ' Ode to the West Wind ' is as ardent and heart- 
thrilling as any expression of religious devotion. 

No one would claim that these poets were indifferent to 
the world of activity around them, unless one may except 
Keats; but their writings reveal a distinct tendency to 
exalt nature at the expense of man. Byron, whose rebel- 
lious individualism was balanced neither by the intellec- 
tual serenity of Wordsworth, nor by Shelley's boundless 
sympathy with suffering, aspiring humanity, nor by Keats' 


passionate longing for harmony between the inward vision 
and the outward symbol, wrote 

High mountains are a feeling, but the hum 

Of human cities torture ; I can see 

Nothing to loathe iu nature, save to be 

A link reluctant in a fleshly chain, 

Classed among creatures, when the soul can flee 

And with the sky, the peak, the heaving plain 

Of ocean and the stars, mingle and not in vain. 

Even Wordsworth, with his unwavering insistence on 
duty, and the joys to be found in simple affections, wrote 
about " our meddling intellects," and supplies various 
illustrations of this tendency. All the poets witness to the 
fact that with this period a new element of worship entered 
into the poetry of nature, of which one must take account 
in order to understand the significance of their successors. 
The second and later element which modified the char- 
acteristic of which I have just spoken, and, in some re- 
spects, absolutely reversed the attitude of poets and critics 
alike, has been, of course, science. Many a critic has 
deplored the results likely to appear from the introduction 
of this new element, with its inevitable tendencies toward 
realism and exactness of statement. It was Stedman who 
wrote in 1875, " The truth is, that our schoolgirls and 
spinsters wander down the lanes with Darwin, Huxley, 
and Spencer under their arms ; or if they carry Tennyson, 
Longfellow, and Morris, read them in the light of spec- 
trum analysis, or test them by the economics of Mill and 
Bain." Mr. George Willis Cooke wrote in 1886: "Theo- 
retically, science should put no obstacles in the way of a 
poet, but, practically, it has acted as a check of the most 
serious kind ; " and he felt that the results of the scientific 
impulse and method on poetry might be noted by depres- 
sion and exhaustion. With all due respect to the familiar 
formula, " An age of science cannot be an age of song," 
one need simply say with Professor Norton and Miss Vida 


Scudder, " Ah, but it has been," and call the roll of the 
poets, who but yesterday lived among us. 

The true poets themselves have never feared the effect 
of science on their Muse, in spite of the declaration made 
in 1870, by the present poet laureate of England, that not 
even Shakespeare himself could have written poetry in an 
age of such intellectual discord as our own. It has been 
pointed out more than once that the poets have prefigured 
by their imagination what the scientists have afterwards 
formulated for us as fact. The fifth act of Browning's 
' Paracelsus,' and the one hundred and seventeenth canto 
of Tennyson's ' In Memoriam,' appeared long before ' The 
Origin of Species ; ' yet both are as clear and as poetic 
statements of the evolution theory as could ever have been 
made of life on the basis of special creation, and Words- 
worth's famous prophecy was fulfilled without a question. 
The entire drama of ' Paracelsus ' is at once a welcome to 
the new scientific ideal, and a recognition of the truth that 
man cannot live by science alone. No matter how much 
we may learn, and however far back we may pusli the 
limits of knowledge, still our reach will for ever exceed 
our grasp, and the heaven of a complete life must include 
the development and satisfaction of many tendencies and 

The poets then were not unfriendly to the new divinity 
thus shaping their ends. Nevertheless, it was inevitable 
that new thoughts of evolution and unity should put a 
new significance into the entire universe, and it became 
necessary to readjust our thoughts of the relation in which 
man stands to the eternal forces working in and through 
it. The twin ideas of democracy and science have in- 
vested man in his every condition with a new interest. 
Nature poetry has been not outgrown, not in any sense 
outgrown, but correlated with wider thoughts of man and 
his development. Problems of the spirit engaged the 
poets as well as the thinkers. They wrestled with the 


treacheries of doubt, the demands of the intellect, the new 
conceptions of social progress. In a time like this, nature 
became the refuge and the comfort, the restorer of the 
wearied soul. The sadness of the earlier nature poetry, 
which contrasted the change and decay of human life with 
the unconscious perfection of the exterior universe, yielded 
to the thought of life eternal in eternally changing form. 
The sphinx took on a merry mood and turned on man with 
the challenge, " Thou art the unanswered question." 

Again, these poets, touched by the spirit of a scientific 
age, ceased to dream and began to observe. The observa- 
tion has often been loving, sometimes even rapturous, but 
it has been observation, not absorption nor self-surrender. 
They have not resigned the poet's prerogative to press 
nature into the service of the heart, but they do this with 
a fidelity to truth that courts the test of analysis as well 
as the test of suggestion. 

Although the Victorian poets have certain characteris- 
tics in common, distinguishing them from the poets of 
other periods, yet there are interesting and significant 
differences between their individual dependence on nature, 
no less distinctive than the differences between their poetic 
work taken as a whole. The artist among them is Tenny- 
son. His lovely landscapes, suggestive of careful culture, 
lifelike as scenes one can remember, seem especially in his 
earlier work to ally most closely the art of painting and 
the art of poetry. Later nature is used more often to 
reflect the mood of the poem. Emerson is our priest, 
who sees in each fresh manifestation of nature the divin- 
ity behind it, who seeks ever for the absolute meaning, 
and whose eye reads omens where it goes. On him the 
world-soul presses close, and the stars tell secrets of being. 
Nevertheless, to him as to the other poets of his truth-seek- 
ing age, man is " the salt of all the elements, world of the 
world." The Parthenon, the pyramids, the English abbeys, 
are of equal date with Andes and with Ararat. He can 


spare nothing out of his world, neither " water nor wine, 
tobacco-leaf nor poppy nor rose." Everything is akin to 
him, but he says " I will sift it all." For him the world 
was built in order and the atoms inarched in tune. The 
pine-tree sang of the genesis of things, of eternal tenden- 
cies, of star-dust and of rounded worlds, but he yielded 
nothing of his own individuality. Ruskin's "pathetic 
fallacy " had no delusions for him, and he kept his cherub 
scorn for those whose botany consists in knowing Latin 
names, and who are 

strangers to the stars, 

And strangers to the mystic bird and beast, 
And strangers to the plant and to the mine. 

When we come to the nature poetry of Browning, we 
find that with him nature is less a means of ornamentation 
than it is Avith Tennyson, less a source of personal enjoy- 
ment and universal revelation than it is with Emerson, 
less a refuge or anodyne for pain than it is with Arnold. 
It is subordinated to human nature to a degree not found 
in any other poet except Shakespeare, who uses it in much 
the same fashion. The development of a soul and inci- 
dents in that development have always the first, the su- 
preme, the absorbing interest for Browning, and he frankly 
announces his position more than once, as in an interlude 
of ' Ferishtah's Fancies ' : 

Round us the wild creatures, overhead the trees, 

Under foot the moss-tracks, life and love with these ! 

I to wear a fawn-skin, thou to dress in flowers : 

All the long lone Summer-day, that greenwood life of ours ! 

So, for us no world ? Let throngs press thee to me ! 

Up and down amid men, heart by heart fare we! 

Welcome squalid vesture, harsh voice, hateful face! 

God is soul, souls I and thou : with souls should souls have place. 

In ' Fra Lippo Lippi ' he puts it thus : 

You 've seen the world 

The beauty and the wonder and the power, 
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, 


Changes, surprises, and God made it all ! 

Do you feel thankful, ay or no, 
For this fair town's face, yonder river's line, 
The mountain round it and the sky above, 
Much more the figures of man, woman, child, 
These are the frame to ? 

Then there is that other poem for which so many need- 
lessly mystical explanations have been made, 'Wanting 
is what ? ' To me it expresses that longing which 
sometimes takes possession of one in the loveliest and 
most soul-satisfying of solitary places, the longing for a 
companionship of enjoyment. Without the sense of hu- 
man companionship the world remains a blank, "Frame- 
work which waits for a picture to frame." 

Despite the witness of expressed statement and of the 
whole body of Browning's work to the truth that with him 
human life is the main interest, yet he was far from indif- 
ferent to nature or unobservant of its varying phases. If 
he belongs to the number of those whose songs, as John 
Chadwick puts it, 

have grown a part for me 
Of mountain splendour and of mobile sea 

Which are most God's, in sooth, I cannot tell, 

it will become known rather by illustration than by 

In the first place, has Browning the power of presenting 
to the mind a vivid, life-like picture, complete in itself 
even if separated from the thought to which it may serve 
as background; that is, is he ever the artist pure and 
simple? Not often, it is true, if we keep in mind the 
whole body of his work ; and contrary to what we might 
expect, and contrary to what is found true in the work of 
Tennyson, the most finished pictures must be sought in 
his later work. In 'Pauline,' that poem to which one 
naturally turns first for nature descriptions, he crowds 
together pictures indeed, but rarely one into which some 


comparison with human experience is not introduced. 
For instance, the songs of the morning swallows sound 
to him like words ; the sunshine comes again " like an old 
smile," the trees bend over the pool in the heart of the 
woods " like wild men o'er a sleeping girl." Again the 

ebbing day dies soft, 

As a lean scholar dies worn o'er his book, 
And in the heaven stars steal out one by one 
As hunted men steal to their mountain watch. 

Once more 


And tree can smile in light at the sinking sun 
Just as the storm comes, as a girl would look 
On a departing lover most serene. 

Then there is the lovely bit, 

Thou wilt remember one warm morn when winter 
Crept aged from the earth, and spring's first breath 
Blew soft from the moist hills ; the black-thorn boughs, 
So dark in the bare wood, when glistening 
In the sunshine were white with coming buds, 
Like the bright side of a sorrow, and the banks 
Had violets opening from sleep like eyes. 

This reversal of the ordinary terms of comparison, all 
taken from this early poem, seems to me both interesting 
and significant. Let one more illustration, also from 
4 Pauline,' be added : 

Autumn has come like spring returned to us, 
Won from her girlishness ; like one returned 
A friend that was a lover, nor forgets 
The first warm love, but full of sober thoughts 
Of fading years ; whose soft mouth quivers yet 
With the old smile, but yet so changed and still ! 

For pure description we must turn to later poems, in 
which there are two or three landscapes which indicate 
not only the careful observer but the artist whose eye 
sees effects in combination and reproduces their unity. 
For instance, there is the scene which greeted the younger 


personage in 'The Inn Album,' when he opens his win- 
dow in the morning, a scene which is alive with light and 
atmosphere : 

lie leans into a living glory-bath 

Of air and light where seems to float and move 

The wooded watered country, hill and dale 

And steel-bright thread of stream, a-smoke with mist, 

A-sparkle with May morning, diamond drift 

O' the sun-touched dew. Except the red-roofed patch 

Of half a dozen dwellings that, crept close 

For hill-side shelter, make the village clump, 

This inn is perched above to dominate 

Except such sign of human neighbourhood, 

(And this surmised rather than sensible) 

There 's nothing to disturb absolute peace, 

The reign of English nature which means art 

And civilised existence. 

Still more definite in detail is the picture of the deep 
hollow in the woods, 

where combine 

Tree, shrub and briar to roof with shade and cool 
The remnant of some lily-strangled pool, 
Edged round with mossy fringing soft and fine. 
Smooth lie the bottom slabs, and overhead 
Watch elder, bramble, rose, and service tree 
And one beneficent rich barberry, 
Jewelled all over with fruit-pendents red. 

As an example of Browning's success in catching the 
evanescent glory of some transition scene in nature, one 
may take that other passage, also from ' Gerard de 
Lairesse ' : 

But morning's laugh sets all the crags alight 

Above the baffled tempest : tree and tree 

Stir themselves from the stupor of the night, 

And every strangled branch resumes its right 

To breathe, shakes loose dark's clinging dregs, waves free 

In dripping glory. Prone the runnels plunge, 

While earth, distent with moisture like a sponge, 

Smokes up, and leaves each plant its gem to see, 

Each grass-blade's glory-glitter. 


These seem to me to be examples of what Matthew 
Arnold would call the Greek way of treating nature. The 
Celtic magic enchants us rather in such lines as these, 
when the poet watches with Luigi the 

great stars 

That had a right to come first aiid see ebb 
The crimson wave that drifts the sun away ; 

or when he waits among the ruins for the girl with eager 
eyes and yellow hair, 

while thus the quiet-coloured eve 

Smiles to leave 
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece 

In such peace, 
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey 

Melt away ; 

or when, floating in the gondola, with the stars helping 
and the sea bearing part and the very night clinging 
closer to Venice' streets for the sake of that one sweet 
face, the lover sings in tones that the lotus-eaters might 
drowsily echo : 

Oh, which were best, to roam or rest? 
The land's lap or the water's breast? 
To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves, 
Or swim in lucid shallows just 
Eluding water-lily leaves ? 

Perhaps one understands best the strength and delicacy 
of Browning's nature-feeling when reading those short 
passages, which are struck off with swift, sure stroke, and 
distinguished rather by aptness of selection and fidelity of 
combination than by elaboration of detail. Such are the 
well-known lines of ' Meeting at Night,' or those in which 
he shows us the mountain from which the breastplate of 
a year's snows has just slipped at the spring's arrowy sum- 
mons, or when he reminds us of the " warm, slow, yellow 
moon-lit nights," which stay in the soul long, long after 
they are gone; or in many lines that might be quoted 



from ' Sordello ' or ' The Flight of the Duchess,' or from 
the songs of 'Paracelsus.' 

No one can doubt the personal enjoyment which Brown- 
ing always found in outdoor life and in direct contact with 
nature. It is not often that he gives us a word of out- 
spoken longing or delight such as we have in the ' Home 
Thoughts from Abroad,' with its note of pure joy in the 
blossoming pear-tree and the wise thrush, but there is the 
thrill of actual experience in the lines from ' Saul ' which 
glorify the life of unrestrained physical activity. It speaks 
too from the more personal poem ' La Saisiaz.' He exults 
in the feat of honest mountain-climbing with its sense 
of achievement. Then comes the rare observation that 
notices how five days have scarcely served 

to entice, from out its den 

Splintered in the slab, this pink perfection of the cyclamen ; 
Scarce enough to heal and coat with amber gum the sloe-tree's gash, 
Bronze the clustered wilding apple, redden ripe the mountain-ash. 

Then beyond and above the beauty that fringes the path- 
way, the tangle-twine of leaf and bloom, the dusky gleam 
of the lake, the wrinkle of the blue water where the mazy 
Arve rushes into it, beyond and above all these is the true 
nature-lover's rapture of feeling awakened by the sight of 
Mont Blanc, " supreme above his earth-brood," with a glory 
that "strikes greatness small." 

Nothing is unworthy Browning's observation. Often 
with a single word he fixes a flower or an insect so that 
thereafter it is named and. known for us by his expression. 
The contumacious grasshopper, the fairy-cupped, "elf- 
needled mat of moss, the red effrontery of the poppies, the 
mimic sun of RudeFs flower, what more is needed to char- 
acterise ? Then how he revels in colour, painting in verse 
the red fans of the butterfly that scorch the rock on which 
it rests " like a drop of fire from a brandished torch ; " or 
the wild tulip that " blows out its great red bell, like a 
thin clear bubble of blood; " or the summit of Saleve, that-, 


thrilled and magnific, burns from black to gold; or the 
city of Madrid, " all fire and shine ; " or the peach-blossom 
marble of the tomb at St. Praxed's, rare and ripe "as 
fresh-poured red wine ; " or " that other kind of water, 
green-dense and dim-delicious, bred o' the sun." The 
glory moments of dawn and sunset attract him with com- 
pelling charm ; but he can soften his strokes and show us 
forth the still night, touched to enchantment by the moon, 
or with a single star gleaming through the darkness. The 
moonlight scenes in 'Pan and Luna,' 'Christmas Eve,' 
' Paracelsus,' ' Sordello,' and ' Ferishtah's Fancies ' make 
up a gallery by themselves. 

Perhaps it will not be going too far away from the sub- 
ject to* instance as a proof of Browning's feeling about 
birds that little poem which ought to be studied by every 
woman who so far stifles her womanly instincts and so 
seriously transgresses the laws of artistic fitness as to wear 
a dead bird or a part of a dead bird in her bonnet. In 
' The Lady and the Painter,' the artist is rebuked for 
using a model to help out his art study, and is asked if he 
does not consider that he thus degrades womanhood in the 
person of his model. He returns, 


(Excuse the interruption) clings 
Half-savage-like around your hat ? 

She. Ah, do they please you ? Wild-bird-wings. 
Next season, Paris-prints assert, 
We must go feathered to the skirt : 
My modiste keeps on the alert. 
Owls, hawks, jays swallows most approve. 

Then seriously, sadly, the Artist replies that a greater 
wrong has been done to womanhood by her who stands 
clothed with the murder of God's best of harmless beings, 
than by the Model, who knows well what absolves her, the 
reverent praise of the Artist for God's surpassing good, 
the divinity of the human form. 


The thought of Wordsworth in his k Ode to Immor- 
tality ' was that a glory passes away from earth with the 
passing of childhood. Browning touches the same theme 
in the prologue to ' Asolando.' True is it, he says, that in 
youth an alien glow surrounds ever}'- common object, and 
the bush burns with terror and beauty but is unconsumed. 
In age the lambent flame is lost from the world, and though 
Italia's rare beauty crowds the eye, yet the bush is bare of 
the living presence. Yet, which is better, the optic glass 
which drapes each object in ruby and emerald, or that 
which reveals its shape clear-outlined, its inmost self 
shrouded by no fancy-haze ? Browning has never a com- 
plaint to make of age. It is God who transcends and to 
whom he has come nearer by the plain truth, slowly and 
painfully attained. Yet sweet and mournful, for us at 
least, is the look backward : 

How many a year, my A solo, 

Since one step just from sea to land 

I found you, loved yet feared you so. 

There are a few poems in which the nature element is 
so interwoven with the human emotion that they cannot 
be separated. In ' Two in the Campagna ' Browning has 
almost caught in words that vague sense of an immanent 
personality of which we are ourselves a part, that feeling 
that there is possible some mental or spiritual attainment 
which includes all nature and all personality in itself. It 
is an impression, an aspiration, born out of some moment 
of exquisite harmony, when it seems as if the bars were 
about to be broken, not only between life and life but 
between the soul of man and the mystery of nature. In a 
moment the mood has vanished, and there is left only the 
infinite passion and the pain of finite hearts. Personality 
is sacred, inviolate for ever, no matter how we may dream 
of escaping its limitations. Yet for a moment everything 
seems possible, and in this seeming nature bears its own 


Another poem of this sort, in which however the inter- 
weaving of nature and meaning is for a different purpose 
and expressed in a different way, is ' Childe Roland,' that 
splendid, heart-bracing romance of long endurance and 
indomitable will. The terrible journey which many of us, 
perhaps most of us, perhaps all of us, must make and make 
alone, is symbolised at every step by the strange country 
through which the knight passes, taking on the colour of 
his own thoughts and influencing them again in continued 
reaction. This is a poem in which every reader may 
legitimately find his own meaning, just as he may in any 
other tale of a quest, but its descriptive power is of an 
order not dependent on the significance of the Round 
Tower at which it leaves us. 

There are other poems in which this close pressure of 
nature upon human experience is expressed, as in a few 
stanzas of ' By the Fireside,' when the lights and the 
shades made up a spell which the forests completed and 
then " relapsed to their ancient mood." In ' James Lee's 
Wife ' the wind lends its moan to the unhappy wife, wail- 
ing like a dumb, wronged tiling that would be righted, 
and the song goes on in long-drawn words that fit mar- 
vellously to the theme : 

I know not any tone 

So fit as thine to falter forth a sorrow : 
Dost think men would go mad without a moan, 

If they knew any way to borrow 
A pathos like thy own ? 

An example no less noteworthy is the scene in 'Pippa 
Passes,' when Ottima reminds Sebald of the thunderstorm 
in the forest : 

Buried in woods we lay, you recollect ; 

Swift ran the searching tempest overhead ; 

And ever and anon some bright white shaft 

Burned thro' the pine-tree roof, here burned and there, 

As if God's messenger, thro' the close wood screen, 

Plunged and re-plunged his weapon at a venture, 


Feeling for guilty thee and me ; then broke 
The thunder like a whole sea overhead. 

One more scene in which nature is brought into inti- 
mate, most intimate, relations with human feeling must be 
remembered. The closing lines of ' Saul ' are a fit ending - 
to that poem in which Browning has gone the whole round 
of creation. In so supreme a moment of revelation as that 
here imagined, nature is swept far beyond all limitations 
of actual existence. Its emotion is transcendent even as 
the revelation itself is transcendent, and experience has 
nothing to say to a moment like this. Nothing in the 
entire poem is more revelatory of Browning's genius than 
that he could close by such exquisite modulations, thoughts 
and words of such scope. After the gradually increasing > 
passion of the poem, rising higher and higher until the 
consummate vision of the Christ that is to be breaks full 
on the mind of David, and the words of annunciation seem 
fairly wrenched from the agony of his inspiration, the 
reader holds himself breathless, and if he did not hasten to 
the conclusion, it would be almost impossible to imagine 
how Browning could release him from that surpassing 
moment without a loss of dignity, how, feeling for the 
common chord again, the poet could slide by semi-tones 
and reach the resting-place, the C Major of this life. 
Browning has done just this by putting all nature into 
sympathy with the word of God uttered to man. David 
goes home through the witnesses, the cohorts about him, 
as a runner beset by the populace, and the strong mono- / 
syllables give a wonderful impression of power held in 
restraint, when 

the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot 
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge. 

Then when the earth had at last sunk to rest, he saw the 
trouble and the tumult 


die out in the day's tender birth ; 

In the gathered intensity brought to the grey of the hills ; 
In the shuddering forests' held breath ; in the sudden wind-thrills ; 
In the startled wild beasts that bore off, each with eye sidling still 
Though averted with wonder and dread ; in the birds stiff and chill 
That rose heavily, as I approached them, made stupid with awe : 
E'en the serpent that slid away silent, he felt the new law. 
The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers ; 
The same worked in the heart of the cedar, and moved the vine-bowers. 
And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and low, 
With their obstinate, all but hushed voices " E'en so, it is so ! " 


'AuT VOGLER,' 15, 33, 52, 177, 329. 

Addison, 287, 439, 440, 470. 

' Adonais,' Shelley's, 122, 442. 

^Eschylus, Browning's translation of 
his ' Agamemnon,' 370, 383, 384, 
385 ; compared with Euripides, 384, 
425, 426 ; on Homer, 407 ; and see 
7, 191, 375, 382, 414, 415, 442. 

' Agamemnon,' Browning's transla- 
tion from ^Eschylus, 370, 383, 453, 
462 ; difficult in both Greek and 
English, 384 ; unintelligibility of 
Browning's version illustrated, 385 ; 
its ruggedness true to the Greek 
original, 468 ; and see 368. Quoted, 
385, 468. 

Agnosticism, Browning's philosophy 
leads to, 325-327. 

'Alastor,' Shelley's, 47, 441. 

' Alkestis,' Euripides', Browning's 
paraphrase in ' Balaustion's Ad- 
venture,' 370, 371, 413, 417 ; Brown- 
ing's interpretation, 30, 31, 372, 
380,418 ; Professor Moulton's criti- 
cism of the paraphrase, 430-436. 

Anacreon, 363, 456. 

' Ancient Mariner, The,' Coleridge's, 
45, 186. 

Anderson, Mary, description of 
Browning, 6. 

'Andrea del Sarto,' 64, 106, 107, 110, 
117, 139, 173, 181. Quoted, 110. 

' Antigone,' Sophocles', 40, 364, 387, 

Antithesis of Love and Knowledge 
in ' Paracelsus,' 222-225, 227, 240, 
243, 245, 340; in 'Reverie,' 225, 

230 ; in ' Luria,' 261, 340 ; in ' Sor- 
dello,' 340, 342, 358. 

'Any Wife to any Husband/ 91. 

'Apparent Failure,' 329. Quoted, 

Aristophanes, 371, 376, 382, 413, 428, 
429, 442. 

'Aristophanes' Apology,' its length, 
371, 377 ; its learning, 375, 377- 
379, 386, 414, 418; story of the 
poem, 376, 377, 379, 419-421 ; a de- 
fence of Greek tragedists against 
Aristophanes, 382, 421 ; presents 
Browning's opinion of Euripides, 
411, 413, 414, 418, 421, 422-425, 
428, 429 ; depicts Athens in its de- 
cadence, 466; and see 370, 453, 
462, also under ' Heracles Mad.' 
Quoted, 376, et seq., 412, 419, 420, 
423, et seq., 464. 

Aristotle, his theism, 11, 12, 13, 14, 
17, 21, 23 ; on tragedy, 41, 193. 

Arnold, Matthew, his classification 
of literature, 323 ; on Homer's 
style, 397 ; his ' Merope,' 442, 451 ; 
style of his Greek imitations, 467 ; 
and see 37, 39, 308, 439, 459, 470, 
477,481. Quoted, 281, 310. 

Art, the Greek theory, 40, 41, and 
see 107, 108, 307, 364, 401, 410; 
the modern problem, 41, 42, 401 ; 
relation to philosophy, 99-106 ; 
ethical significance to Browning, 
106, 206, 323 ; Renaissance influ- 
ence on, 113-115; the relativity 
of all art as a basis of criticism, 



'Artemis Prologizes,' 366, 458, 459. 

Quoted, 458. 
'As You Like It,' Shakespeare's, 

quoted, 179. 
'Asolaudo,' 28, 166, 470, 484. See 

also ' Reverie ' and ' Epilogue.' 
' At the Mermaid,' quoted, 205. ; 
' Atalanta in Calydou,' Swinburne's, 

451, 459. 

' Athanase,' Shelley's, 448. 
'Aurora Leigh,' Mrs. Browning's, 

quoted, 115, 128. 

BAGEHOT, WALTER, quoted, 441. 

' Balaustiou's Adventure,' a study 
containing a paraphrase of Euri- 
pides' 'Alkestis,' 370-376, 462; 
and see ' Alkestis ; ' personality of 
Balaustion, 411, 464, 465, 469; 
Balaustion's opinion of Euripides, 
411, et seq. ; story of the poem, 
414-417; imagination and classical 
study shown in the poem, 453, 464, 
469. Quoted, 373, 415, 416, 417, 

Balfour, A. J., quoted, 311, 316, 328. 

Barrett, Lawrence, on ' The Blot in 
the 'Scutcheon ' as an acting play, 

Beaumont, 285 ; and Fletcher, 271. 

Beauty, Plato's teaching about, 41, 
450; contrast between the Greek 
and Christian ideals of, 107, 108 ; 
beauty and dogma in Renaissance 
Art, 118, 114; Shelley influenced 
by Greek conceptions of, 445 ; 
Browning's little regard for out- 
ward, 453 ; the classic ideal reached 
in Balanstion, 464 ; and see 1 88. 

' Bells and Pomegranates,' 2, 5, 249. 

Berdoe, Dr., as a Browning critic, 
223, 329, 435. 

' Bishop Blougram's Apology,' an un- 
natural monologue, 64, 1 84 ; the 
strength of the poem, 176 ; not an 
argument against Roman Catholi- 
cism, 289, 290; and see 19, 59, 
132, 188, 215, 279, 287, 291, 297, 
.350, 406. Quoted, 20, 176, 178. 

' Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. 
Praxed's Church, The/ 369, 483. 

Blackwood's, criticism of Wordsworth, 

Blank Verse, Milton's, 157 ; Brown- 
ing's skill in, 280. 

' Blot in the 'Scutcheon, A,' romantic 
love in, 92 ; the moral strain un- 
natural, 211-213; as an acting 
play, 250 ; Dickens' praise, 283 ; 
a criticism of Mr. Sharp's, 285 ; 
and see 172, 219. Quoted, 92, 211, 
212, 213, 285. 

Botticelli, Sandro, 107, 114, 254. 

' Bridge of Sighs, The,' Hood's, the 
triple rhymes, 171. 

Brooke, Stopford, on Browning, 310, 

Brooks, Bishop, on Wordsworth's 
optimism, 320. 

Browning, Mrs., allusions to her in 
Browning's poems, 94-96 ; ' Aurora 
Leigh,' quoted, 115, 128; rhyme 
in ' Cowper's Grave,' 171; her 
judgment of Euripides, 371,422. 

Browning, Robert, growth of his 
fame in America and England, 2, 
3, 4 ; compared with Tennyson, 4, 
5,6; his appearauce ; 6 ; his theism, 
7-34 : original treatment of the 
conception of God, 8, 9, 16 ; intui- 
tion of God as Power, 16-21 ; of 
God as Love, 21-26 ; interest in 
the relation and reconciliation of 
the two intuitions, 22, 26, 31, 33, 
34 ; interest in the Incarnation, 25, 
26 ; his theism an intuition, not a 
philosophy, 34 ; use of monologue, 
35-66 : his character and the age 
as determining his choice of the 
monologue, 36-45 ; earliest experi- 
ments, ' Pauline,' ' Paracelsus,' and 
' Sordello,' 46-55 ; tendency to cold- 
ness and monotony, 48, 52, 55, 65, 
66 ; " discovery " of Italy, 55, 56 ; 
his masterpiece, ' The Ring and 
the Book,' 56 ; value of the plot 
to him, 59, 62, 63 ; his ' Caliban,' 
67, et seq. ; his meaning in the 
poem, 78-83 ; conception of the 
CJixist, 80 ; theory of romantic love, 
(84-9^;) conception of love, 84, 91, 
; influenced by Plato, Pe- 



trarch, and Dante, 89, 90, 91, 94, 
96 ; examples of his treatment of 
romantic love, 89-92 ; treatment 
of domestic love, 93, 94 ; romantic 
element in his own lovej.94-96 ; his 
philosophy of art, 99- 11 7^ need of 
artistic expression, "TUO, 101 ; rela- 
tion to nineteenth century philos- 
ophy, 102, 103 ; both a realist and 
an idealist, 104-106; his art-poems 
studies of character, 106-115; on 
objective and subjective poets, 115, 
116; combined the characteristics 
of each, 117 ; showed in ' A Gram- 
marian's Funeral ' that apparent 
failure may be triumph, 118-129: 
attitude toward Love, Will, and 
Knowledge, 123-125; put stress on 
aim, not achievement, 125, 126; 
ethical value of his characters, 128 ; 
studies of conduct, 131, et seq.; 
characters of the calculating type, 
132 ; the uncalculatiug type illus- 
trated in ' A Soul's Tragedy,' 133- 
138; his sympathy with the uucal- 
culating soul, 138-142 ; his central 
teaching being more than doing, 
145 ; anticipation in ' Paracelsus ' 
of evolution theory, 150, 151 ; early 
criticism of Browning, 161 ; his 
affinity to the new criticism, 162; 
a master of rhyme, 164-172 : vari- 
ety of stanza-forms, 165, 166; 
avoidance of " end-stopt " lines, 
166-169; faulty rhymes, 169-171 ; 
use of double and triple rhymes, 
172; over-elaboration, 173; little 
use of imagery, 174-189 : compared 
with Shakespeare in this respect, 
175-181 ; sentiment more than 
imagery, 178; realism, 182, 183; 
imagination, 188; used an original 
motive in 'Strafford,' 190-202: 
' Strafford ' compared with ' Julius 
Ca=sar,' 193-196; additions to his- 
torical fact, 197, 198; original 
treatment of the trial-scene, 199, 
200 ; as a dramatic poet, 203-220 : 
essentially dramatic, 205, 207, 208 ; 
contrasted with Shakespeare, 205- 
215, 217-219; supreme interest 

development of a soul, 206 ; artis- 
tic limitations, 206, 208-210; his 
dramas not placed in a natural en- 
vironment, 210-213, 218,219; the 
main idea too obtrusive, 214, 215 ; 
Truth and Love in his dramas, 
215-217; each character embodies 
one mood, 217, 218; humour rare, 
219; monologue, his true vehicle, 
220 ; depicted a mood in ' Paracel- 
sus,' 222 ; his use of Love and 
Knowledge, 223, et seq. ; his creed, 
strennousness, 224 ; his Paracelsus 
and the real Paracelsus, 225-228, 
231, et seq.; fondness for mysti- 
cism, 227, 239, 240, 242. 243; his 
view of the divine revelation, 229- 
231, 239-241, 243 ; showed in ' Para- 
celsus ' the defect of the occultists, 
239-242 ; reason for his tardy 
fame, 249, 250; his dramas not 
good acting plays, 250, 251 ; his 
careful revision of 'Luria,' 251; 
his small debt to historical fact 
in 'Luria/ 251-253; his Luria 
reminiscent of Othello, 257 ; his 
characteristic antithesis of heart 
against head illustrated in ' Luria,' 
261 ; his influence due to the ethi- 
cal quality of his work, 264 ; his 
' Return of the Druses ' shows 
careful study of Druse history, 271 ; 
melodramatic effects in his dramas, 
273, 274, 283 ; his failure in ' Re- 
turn of the Druses ' to reproduce 
Oriental character, 275-278 ; his 
most skilful portraits, 279 ; metri- 
cal skill, 279, 280, 285, 286 ; de- 
fects in diction in the plays, 280- 
283, 285 ; few living characters in 
his plays, 285 ; constructive inge- 
nuitv, 285, 286 ; poetical treatment 
of ethical subjects the ground of 
his unique position, 287, Kf\ 
compared with Sainte-Beuve, 288 ; 
' Mr. Sludge, the Medium ' a study 
of character, not an attack on spir- 
itism, 289, 290 ; had an unpromis- 
ing subject for poetic treatment in 
Sludge, 290-294; not responsible 
for Sludge's philosophy, 295; hia 



optimism and Wordsworth's, 306- 
333 : a representative of the new 
spirit in literature, 307, 308 ; meet- 
ing with Wordsworth, 321 ; knowl- 
edge and conduct as the basis of 
Browning's philosophy and art, 
323, 324 ; his philosophy, 324-327 ; 
his poetry, 327, 328 ; his optimism 
based on his Christian theism, 328, 
330, 331 ; as a prophet, 329 ; his 
obscurity, especially in ' Sordello/ 
334-338 ; hampered by the rhyme, 
338 ; lacked the restraint of dra- 
matic form, 339 ; reason for aban- 
douing in ' Sordello ' the dramatic 
form, 339-341 ; beautiful utter- 
ances in ' Sordello,' 341 ; signifi- 
cance of the poem to Browning, 
356 ; and see 358, 361, 362 ; nature 
of his interest in his dramatic crea- 
tions, 360, 361 ; classical element 
iii his poetry, 363-387 : classical 
allusions, 364, 369, 375, 386; un- 
Greek in subject, point of view, 
and treatment, 364-367, 377, 386, 
387 ; Greek paraphrases and trans- 
lations, 370-373, 375-385 ; ability 
as translator, 370, 381, 384, 386; 
as critic of Greek drama, 373, 378 ; 
his spelling of Greek names, 374 ; 
unjust to Aristophanes, 376 ; com- 
pared with Homer, 388-410: un- 
like Homer in his ethical interest, 
391, 401,406; their different con- 
ceptions of the poetic gift, 394- 
396 ; a transcendentalist, 396 ; 
Homer's style aud Browning's con- 
trasted, 397-402, 404, 405 ; Brown- 
ing an optimist, Homer a pessimist, 
402-404 ; representative of their 
respective ages, 405-407 ; alike in 
dramatic quality, 407-409 ; severe 
in their moral judgments, 409 ; 
duration of their fame, 410; his 
opinion of Euripides as shown in 
the Balaustion poems, 411-437 : as 
a scholar and critic, 412-414, 429 ; 
expressions of judgment on Euri- 
pides, 421-425 ; preference for 
Euripides over ^Eschylus and 
Sophocles, 425, 426; attitude to- 

wards Aristophanes, 428, 429 ; his 
' Alkestis ' criticised as misrepre- 
senting Euripides, 429-436 ; his 
artistic use in the Balaustion poems 
of two historical incidents, 436 ; 
Browning's affinity for Greece, 
440, 453, 463, 464; un-Greek by 
nature, 452, 468 ; differences in 
Greek influence on Browning and 
Shelley, 453-455, 470; his treat- 
ment of Greece, original and fruit- 
ful, 455, et seq. : early classical al- 
lusions in Shelley's manner, 456, 
457 ; minor Greek poems, 458-461, 
462, 469 ; as a critic of antiquity, 
459, 469 ; first indication of devo- 
tion to Euripides in ' The Ring 
and the Book,' 462; the longer 
classic poems as showing his dis- 
tinctive method, 462, 463-467 ; his 
rendering of Greek style, 467, 468 ; 
value of his delineations of Greek 
life, 468-470 ; nature in his poetry, 
471-487: attitude towards science, 
475 ; subordinated nature to human 
nature, 477 ; not indifferent to na- 
ture, 478, 482 ; comparisons in his 
early descriptions, 478, 479 ; later 
examples, 479, 480; his best de- 
scriptions delicate and apt, not de- 
tailed and elaborate, 481 ; sense 
for colour, 482 ; on nature and old 
age in ' Asolaudo,' 484 ; interweav- 
ing of nature and human emotion, 
especially in ' Saul,' 484-487. For 
quotations, see titles of poems. 

Brutus, in 'Julius Cffisar,' compared 
with Pym, in ' Strafford,' 194-196. 

Bryant, William Cullen, 149. 

Bury, on Euripides, 428. 

Butier, Samuel, 286. 

' By the Fireside,' a picture of do- 
mestic love, 93 ; and see 252, 485. 
Quoted, 94. 

Byron, Lord, 171, 205, 286, 308, 473. 
Quoted, 474. 

CAIRD, EDWARD, on Wordsworth, 


Caird, John, 316. Quoted, 329. 
Calderon, 274, 442. 



' Caliban upon Setebos/ study of the 
poem, 67-83 : sources, 67, 68 ; Cal- 
iban's conception of God, 70, etseq.; 
belief in an Over-God (the Quiet), 
72, 73 ; deductions from the poem, 
81-83; and see 15, 16, 20,26,28, 
188, 289, 290, 291, 297. Quoted, 
70, et seq. 

Carducci, 452. 

Carlyle, Thomas, 1, 37, 38, 188, 307, 
308, 370. 

' Cavalier Songs,' the rhyme of, 169. 

' Ceuci, The,' Shelley's, 446. 

Chadwick, John, quoted, 478. 

Charming, W. E., quoted, 82; and 
see 70, 149. 

' Character of the Happy Warrior,' 
Wordsworth's, quoted, 318. 

' Charge of the Light Brigade,' Ten- 
nyson's, the measure, 172. 

' Charles Avison, Parley iugs with,' 
quoted, 162. 

Chaucer, 6, 203, 285. 

Che'nier, 464. 

' Childe Roland/ an illustration of 
indomitable will, 124; the rhyme, 
166; descriptions of nature, 185- 
187, 485. Quoted, 186. 

' Christabel,' Coleridge's, 154, 186. 

' Christmas-Eve,' 15, 25, 483. Quoted, 

Cicero, quoted, 144. 

Cimabue, 107, 114. 

Clark. Miss Elizabeth M., on Brown- 
ing's rhymes, 169-171. 

Classic ideal of art. 40. 

Classicism, Browning's relation to, 
367, 387 ; Shelley's, spontaneous, 
442, 444; and see 366. See also 

'Cleon,' as a picture of Greek life 
and character, 369, 370; study of 
a Greek of the decadence, 459- 
461 ; and see 401. 402, 404, 405, 
406, 462. Quoted, 460, 461. 

' Cloud, The,' Shelley's, quoted, 444. 

Clongh, A. H., 308. 

Cockney School, 153, 160. 

Coleridge, S. T., 1, 184, 381 ; and 
see ' Ancient Mariner,' and ' Chris- 

' Colombo's Birthday,' Truth and Love 
in, 215, 216 ; and" see 139, 218, 250, 
283, 284, 359. Quoted, 216, 284. 

Colour, Browning's sense for, 482. 

Comedy, Browning and, 209 ; union 
of Iragedy and Comedy, 378, 424, 
469 , discussion of 1 ragedy and 
Comedy iu ' Aristophanes' Apol-- 
ogy,' 421 ; and see 187, 429. 

Conduct, Browning's study of, 131 ; 
relation to Browning's art, 323. 

Cooke, George Willis, his Guide- 
Book, quoted, 253, 255, 361, 474. 

Cordelia in 'King Lear,' 213, 219, 

Corot, 37. 

Corson, Prof. Hiram, quoted, 81, 171. 

' Count Gismond,' quoted, 168. 

' Cristina,' a study of romantic love, 
89, 90; the antithesis of, 261. 
Quoted, 90. 

Criticism, early nineteenth century, 
154, 161; of the Elizabethan Age, 
155-157; of the classical era, 157, 
158 ; the latter gave rise to a school 
of criticism, 158 ; the new criticism, 
161-163; the 'Higher Criticism/ 
309 ; Browning's criticism of Greek 
Drama, 378, 413, 414, 421. 

DAXTE, romantic love in, 84, 86, 87, 
88, 96, 97 ; mention of Bordello, 
361 ; and see 4, 43, 94, 95, 101, 
188, 254, 256, 442. Quoted, 96, 
98, 137. 

Darwin, Charles, 1, 151, 279, 405. 

' Death in the Desert, A/ 287 : see 
also (John) 17, 25, 28; (Pamphy- 
lax) 184. Quoted, 103. 

Dennis, John, criticism of Pope, 1 58. 

Desdemona, in 'Othello/ 59, 213, 
256, 262. 

' Development/ 363. 

Dickens, on ' A Blot in the 'Scutch- 
eon/283 ; and see 38, 187. 

'Dis Aliter Visum/ its internal 
rhyme, 166. 

'Divine Comedy/ Dante's, 101, 370. 

Domett, Alfred, quoted, 249. 

' Don Juan/ Byron's, its rhymes, 



Donne, W. B., quoted, 434. 

Dowden, Professor, quoted, 67, 310. 

Drama, not congenial to the spirit of 
the times, 44, 45 ; the best instru- 
ment for revealing character, 206 ; 
Greek Drama, 364, 390 ; Brown- 
ing's able criticism of Greek Drama, 
378, 413 ; Swinburne's and Arnold's 
imitations of Greek Drama, 451. 

Dramatic Poetry: motive, 190-192; 
characteristics of Browning's, 205, 
et seq. ; 273, 274, 283, 340 ; the re- 
straints of dramatic form, 339 ; 
dramatic quality in Homer, 407. 

' Dramatis Personae,' 458, 462. 

Draytou, his ' Polyolbion,' 286. 

Druses. See ' Return of the Druses.' 

Drydeu, 157, 158, 159. 

Dumas, 274. 

EASTER-DAY/ 15, 25. Quoted, 168. 

' Echetlos,' 463. 

Eckhart, Meister, 13. 

Edinburgh Review, The, 153. Quoted, 

'Electra,' Euripides ', 379, 418, 426, 

Elizabethan Age, criticism in the,